Matters of moment, August 1991


Signs are everywhere now — beside and on the roads, on hoardings, in shops and in garages. It seems a long time since motorists challenged them as disfiguring the environment and The Autocar even dared to criticise the AA’s “yellow peril” roadside signs.

Cars themselves, once objects of respect, suffer likewise, with high prices paid for personalised number plates and much snobbishness attached to having the latest registration prefix. Back windows are all too often used to display “clever” signs, with young farmers proclaiming they do it in wellies, others informing us that “If you can read this you are too — close,” often in such small type that even those with 100% eyesight can hardly read the message, and there are the more obscure ones, such as “Care — child in car” (does this mean we must not overtake?) and seen on a Volvo 740 recently, “Caution — Show-dog in transit,” (a pit bull-terrier, perhaps?) (Readers may care to collect others for us.)

We have moved on a long way from the days when many owners raised great objection to the suggestion that their vehicles should be numbered. When, in 1903, it was thought that acceptance of numbering might be a means of getting higher speed-limits, gentlemen still did not take kindly to having to display numbers on their cars. When Brooklands opened for racing in 1907, ordinary cars had long been numbered, the competitors thought it undignified to have their racing cars so treated, so instead they were identified by jockeys’ “silks” regardless of the fact that jockeys were then the poor employees of wealthy race-horse owners and that the gents in their coloured silks must have looked pretty ludicrous, anyway.

Now all that has changed and cars are burdened with dangling-dollies, those stupid stickers, go-quicker stripes, rally lamps and so on — which is perhaps better than them being relegated to the non-status of mere utilitarian objects. From thoughts of signitis it is but a short step to signs of silliness. For example, there is this curious suggestion that drivers applying to take the driving test should have to understand not only the Highway Code but also take a First Aid Test. Good grief! In how many cases would this assist accident casualties? Most would-be new drivers find it difficult enough to answer Highway Code questions, let alone have to bother about fibulas and tibias. Do you know in what average distance a car can be pulled-up on a wet or a dry road from X-mph? If you do or do not, does it make any difference to the way in which you drive? However, proposed double tests could be a blessing, in as much as the fewer who manage to pass the Driving Test, the fewer cars there will be on our clogged-up roads.

Then there are the suggestions that the slower vintage cars using the Motorways should have extra bright rear lamps and carry day-glow boards, in view of recent sad accidents to two A7s, run into by faster traffic. But surely the lighting required by the existing regulations are sufficient? It is the driver who fails to calculate closing distance who is to be blamed for a collision, a case of misused speed and faulty judgement; although if individual users of cars cruising at 35 to 45 mph feel safer day-glowed, that is up to them! Better, perhaps, not to use Motorways after dark.

There are signs that the BBC TV is reverting to its former “all-balls” view of sport, judging by the eternal cricket, endless tennis and interminable golf-matches it broadcasts, while neglecting decent coverage of Le Mans and returning to cricket on the morning after the French Grand Prix, with no mention of the win by a British driver, Nigel Mansell. The stars of other sporting action are discussed, interviewed, seen receiving their trophies, etc. F1 racing is put on at odd hours, the French GP being dependent that afternoon on how long the Wimbledon tennis finals took, and when a Grand Prix ends there is just a moment with the victorious drivers seen on the podium and it is all over. The huge crowds who watched the French and British Grands Prix should convince the BBC of the popularity of motor racing. Could you please, Anne Robinson, draw the attention of those whom you call “them upstairs” to this unwarranted situation?

On a happier note, there are signs that manufacturers of the kind of cars you and I drive are using competition successes to publicise their products, Peugeot, Ford and Mazda for instance, which can only be good for the sport which I assume you prefer, or find equally enjoyable, to the “all-balls” sort. — WB