Matters of moment, December 1971

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Goodwill to motorists
This is the last copy of Motor Sport you will see before Christmas. So we thought it right to be seasonal and as this is a time of peace on earth and goodwill among men, how about some goodwill for motorists? There are so many ways in which it could be applied.

The carriages-which-without-horses-go are here to stay and however much officialdom hates or fears them, they won’t just vanish by thinking nasty thoughts about them. So, as cars give a great deal of pleasure to a great many people, for which their users are made to pay dearly, and in times of peace and even war have humanitarian tasks to perform, such as ambulance work and fire-fighting, we suggest that those who drive them be treated as human beings instead of minor criminals.

Human beings inevitably make mistakes but when a motor vehicle driver does so, serious repercussions are put in chain. Like loss of the driving licence for three endorsements in three years. A lot of us cover very big mileages in twelve months, on roads not exactly foolproof from the safety angle. We therefore consider three years to be too long for an endorsement to run—it should be rescinded after a year. To suffer loss of one’s licence and most likely one’s livelihood for scoring three such blacks in a mileage which could quite commonly be as high as 60,000 or appreciably more is outrageous, particularly when such endorsements are doled out for simple non-criminal offences which each day it becomes more and more difficult to avoid committing.

So in this happy festive month of human forgiveness, let Magistrates and JPs, in their wisdom, endorse less frequently, and accept that a long spell of driving with a clean record should reap some just reward. Let them stamp heavily on real criminal acts such as driving after heavy drinking or drug-taking, stealing cars, recklessly using motor vehicles, etc. But let them think again about lesser offences—like going a fraction too fast in some arbitrary speed-limit area, stopping just too long in a limited parking place, not replacing immediately a licence disc detached from the windscreen, a faulty stop-lamp bulb, or cleaning that dirty number-plate, or some such insignificant motoring folly.

That there is need for our Courts to ponder these things was nicely expressed by a retiring Essex Magistrates’ Clerk the other day and reported on the front page of the East Anglian Daily Times. He said, in effect, that car accidents are due in many cases to carelessness but not to criminal negligence. The motorist so involved suffers loss of his or her car for some time, possibly injury, perhaps loss of work, and most likely an increase in insurance premiums—all on account of a momentary lapse such as you see in any sport without anyone calling the sportsman criminal.

The luckless driver then comes to Court and faces almost automatically a fine of £25 or more—unless, as is rare, the Court is one of the more human ones. Compare this, said the experienced Clerk, with theft or similar crimes. Such offences are not careless or unlucky—they consist of purposeful crime, done with a knowledge of the risks involved; if undetected you are the winner. What of those who get caught? The Clerk recalled that they are “given legal aid almost as of right, a social enquiry investigation when everything good in their favour is stated, then dealt with in a manner which does not bear comparison with the motorist who has committed an offence usually without intent”.

So as a piece of Christmas goodwill to motorists we recommend that those who judge motoring cases let this bit of wisdom sink in. And we ask them not to come up with the old nonsense of a motorist being in charge of a lethal weapon, because those who legislate should have thought of this before motor cars began and formed up into a gigantic industry, and, incidentally, a grand source of taxation….

Anything else, while we are at it? Well, what about the gritting of roads in an age when a cut tyre can earn one endorsement per wheel? If you say sharp chips don’t really do that much damage we shall shift our ground, like the best lawyers, and enquire about windscreens shattered by such casually laid stones, which we are expected to roll in. And don’t offer us the ancient nonsense that if we all went slowly at the behest of the so-termed road menders, this wouldn’t happen—one tiny pebble bouncing up has done the trick for us. What about stones falling from grit trucks? What about those temporary traffic lights at road works situated on the wrong side of the road, and thus easily overlooked, with endorsement-earning consequences? What about salt on winter roads that rots our cars away almost before purchase tax has been paid? What, indeed, about abnormally slippery roads, badly sited warning signs, obviously dangerous traffic hazards which are never rectified? What, indeed?

Mainly, however, we want hard-working and conscientious Magistrates to look closely at the endorsement situation, while asking them to remember that the chap in the hard-won (and we don’t mean nicked) Mini shouldn’t be put on a par, fine-wise, with a Corniche owner. After which, a Very Happy Christmas to you, Sirs, one and all….

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