Lessons in road safety
I’ve been caught speeding and am more than usually annoyed with myself. While I am normally relaxed about velocities reached by cars in wide open spaces and good conditions, I never speed in towns or villages.
Or at least that’s what I thought until Dorset Police sent me a lovely photograph of my old 911 doing 36mph in a 30mph zone.
With the best mitigation I could think of being that I’d just had lunch with Porsche specialist Nick Faure, I resigned myself to collecting three points on a licence that had only just become clean for the first time in over a decade.
But instead I was invited to attend a ‘Driver Awareness’ course. You may well be aware of these and, indeed, some of you may already have had the honour of attending one. But for those as yet a stranger to this delight, here’s what happens.
The courses are available only to those who commit minor transgressions and in exchange for £60 (which you’d have been fined anyway), you get to sit in a classroom for three hours while you’re told all about road safety. And presuming you turn up approximately on time and manage not to flee the building mid-lecture, you’ll be spared the points.
My first observation upon entering the room was that it was populated almost entirely by elderly and middle-aged attendees, most of whom (myself included) were wearing slightly bewildered expressions. As gatherings of master criminals go, you’d find more at my daughter’s nursery.
We first had to register and then apply a large yellow sticker bearing our first name to our clothing, which is something else it has in common with the nursery. Then we were introduced to Brian, whose course it was and whose hellishly chatty demeanour and insistence on referring to us as ‘gang’ rendered him irredeemable in my eyes long before the lecture even started.
But at least after a truly ghastly preamble including such memorable phrases as ‘I’m not here to point my finger at you’, ‘we’ve had magistrates in here before’ and ‘let’s see if we can’t have some fun with this’, Brian did actually come up with some interesting things to say.
For instance, I didn’t know that the average driver fails to see seven in every 10 road signs. Nor did I know that if you are driving on a single carriageway road with some kind of central reservation, the speed limit is 70 and not 60mph. Until that day I had not considered that the total cost of a fatal road accident is, on average, £1.8 million, nor had it crossed my mind that the average age of someone killed on a motorcycle is as high as 46. I even stopped sketching out my zillionth design for the London Grand Prix in my notebook (currently a figure of eight involving Kensington Church Street, the Bayswater Road, Marble Arch and Park Lane with the crossover at the Serpentine in Hyde Park) and paid attention instead.
We then divided up into groups to consider the consequences of causing a substantial accident on the public road. My classmates and I (including one who’d turned up half an hour late but was admitted anyway) came up with an impressively long list including loss of earnings, loss of face, physical, mental and emotional trauma for you, your family and friends and so on. By this process we were made to look straight in the eye the consequences of behaving dreadfully on the road.
And had any of us actually been in that room because we had behaved dreadfully on the road it is just possible that, combined with the gratuitously shocking photographs we were then shown of the aftermath of road traffic accidents, some good might have been served. But we weren’t. By the very terms of eligibility for the course, all of us were the most minor offenders, all there not because we were reckless lawbreakers with a shamefully casual view of the value of human life, but because we’d each made a tiny mistake that had no consequences for anyone at all.
In the end I was, of course, grateful for the opportunity to attend the course and therefore keep my licence clean, and I even quite enjoyed it – finishing with a good private chat with Brian afterwards about the wisdom or otherwise of meekly making space for tailgating morons to pass you. But as I went home I can’t say I much altered the way I drove. However well intended Brian’s message was, it seemed inescapable to me that he was delivering it to the wrong people.
Would it not be better to target those who drive through villages at 60mph, or who drive when drunk, or stoned? It is them, not us, who are responsible for the grisly contents of those photographs, yet it is we who are forced to learn from their mistakes.
And while I have your attention, would it not be better to begin with to have a driving test that required learners to have some knowledge of driving in the dark, or on a wet road? Or on a motorway? Or if the intention is to nip the potential for bad behaviour in the bud, surely the place for such a course is as part of that driving test.
The sad thing is that I think the Driver Awareness course is well intended and could be quite a useful initiative. But even the most powerful weapon is useless unless pointed in the right direction.
BMW Gran Turismo trumps the X6
BMW has already had one attempt at using one car to sprawl across the large car classes and the result, the SUV cum coupé that is the X6, was not pretty. In fact it was (and is) hideous. But this new Gran Turismo, which attempts to combine the best aspects of a saloon, hatchback and estate, is a far more effective weapon.
BMW has chosen to call it a Five Series but in fact it’s based on the all-new Seven Series, which means a sumptuously spacious interior but with standard air suspension (optional on the Seven) and an eight-speed gearbox (unavailable in the Seven until 2010). It’s sizeably more sophisticated and comfortable – and also £13,000 cheaper model for model.
It also has rear seats that don’t just move a bit but recline like nothing else this side of a Maybach or an aircraft. Indeed this may be the first BMW ever to be as enjoyable from the back as the front.
Some won’t like its hatchback even though it also opens as a boot, while others will resent its small rear windscreen and poor over-the-shoulder visibility. But most will see it for what it is: a more comfortable, practical and effective Seven Series for a lot less money. With prices starting at £40,810 for the 3-litre diesel version almost everyone will buy, it deserves to do as well as the X6 deserves to do badly.
A Vauxhall that’s a class apart
This Vauxhall VXR8 Bathurst S has made me giggle more than anything with four doors has a right to. Until now I’ve not cared much for these big Holdens rebadged as Vauxhalls. But the Bathurst S comes complete not only with a Walkinshaw-designed supercharger for its 6.2-litre engine, but a completely uprated chassis.
The upshot is a four-door saloon with 572bhp, a 0-60 time of just over 4sec and a top speed on the dark side of 190mph. But that’s not what’s making me laugh. It’s the manner in which the power is delivered, with a scream from the supercharger you’d normally expect from a WWII fighter.
I like it more than any of its predecessors because of the work to the chassis. While the standard VXR8 feels loosely controlled, uncouth and crude in its handling, the Bathurst with its stiffer springs and adjustable coil over dampers allows you to exploit the extra performance. The result is a car that’s not only quicker through corners, it’s easier and more pleasurable by far.
The Bathurst S costs £44,995 which is a vast amount to blow on a Vauxhall, but not much to spend on a 190mph supercar that will house your family and all its luggage. The only problem is fuel consumption. Without trying hard, I managed 12mpg…