Letters from readers, February 1975

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The New Restrictions

Germany Won’t Have Them

Sir,

Once again the motorist bears the brunt of “economy measures” to conserve oil, first with swingeing petrol taxes (with the prospect of more increases soon) and now this latest absurdity, even more repressive speed limits. As a meaningful petrol saving measure these speed limits are useless—it is like a family facing insolvency cancelling the morning paper in an effort to make ends meet.

I believe petrol accounts for about one sixth of all oil imported to this country, and it is estimated that if all cars drove at the speeds laid down, then about 2% of that MIGHT be saved. Saved to do what? Use the car 10% more often than one might otherwise have done, probably, encouraged by the few extra m.p.g.! The theory that low speed limits will reduce this country’s oil import bill just will not stand up to examination. It is a nonsense.

The real reason for these limits is that the officials of the Ministry of Transport WANT low speed limits. They have been on this tack for years, first as a panic measure after the Motorway fog crashes during the reign of Tom Fraser; then as selected 50 limits during holiday months on selected roads; last winter as a “petrol saving measure” (briefly lifted); and now again—with a very permanent look.

I can only conclude that the mother of a top civil servant in the Ministry of Transport was frightened at one time in a De Dion Bouton reaching double figures, because there is no logical reason for this relentless reduction in speed limits. If it is an attempt to reduce accidents, then why not say so— and, if so, why stop at 50? There will be even fewer accidents at 40, 30 or 20 m.p.h., and, by the time cars are virtually stationary, people will be dying only from boredom, or trapped in traffic jams, from old age.

I apologise for being so facetious but really, these low speed limits are an awful waste of efficiency—both human and technical. Consider the thousands of productive man-hours lost every year by people sitting on their backsides dawdling along Motorways and other fine roads, beset by bunching, frustration and boredom. Modern cars were designed for better things and, indeed, so were the roads. Motorways were conceived as high-speed links between important industrial and commercial centres. How hollow that sentence sounds now. Technical development in the motor industry will flatten off as there will be no need for any performance or handling to speak of, and cars generally will become very dull, depressing an already depressed market even further.

In all their efforts, the Ministry of Transport is greatly assisted by a largely apathetic motoring public and pathetically toothless motoring organisations. Asked about the speed limits on the day they were introduced, a Scottish official of one of the motoring organisations said: “We must all accept the Government’s good intentions in imposing these limits”. With a defence counsel like that, who needs a prosecuting attorney?

In Germany, however, things are very different. The attempt by the Government there to impose speed limits on the autobahns was howled down by the German motoring public. Officialdom backed down under the weight of public protest, and the German Motorways have merely “advisory” limits.

And what of the Police in all this? While not exactly the “unspeakable chasing the uneatable” there is no doubt that these silly limits are manifestly unenforceable on a comprehensive scale, and will go largely ignored by thousands of motorists every day. Police/public relations will sink to an all-time low as, inevitably, an even greater number of otherwise law-abiding people are prosecuted.

Real crime, however, will no doubt benefit, as Police manpower and machinery, and taxpayers’ money, is diverted to hound the British motorist—and if he doesn’t get up on his hind legs and really protest to his MP, then I am sorry to say that he deserves it.

Larkhall, Lanarkshire J. L. M. COTTER

This Negative Nation

Sir,

Doubtless this letter is one of many that you have received expressing anger and incredulity at the latest Government farce. I am, of course, referring to the latest speed limits which are publicly admitted to be little more than a gesture, saving perhaps 1-2% in fuel. Why the progress of the Nation should be held up for a gesture is totally beyond me. We will have even more of the already familiar bunching restricting our travel even more. Few people are going to risk prosecution by overtaking the queue lest the vehicle following them is one of those silly unmarked police cars. Some drivers, however, will see the stupidity of the law and will refuse to amble from place to place. Even though they are probably driving perfectly safely it will be those unfortunates who are hauled up before the magistrates and awarded a fine and an endorsement.

I don’t want to see this country crumble away, but it seems to me that our politicians, irrespective of party, have adopted a very negative role towards the question of British energy. We have vast resources of coal under our soil and yet we buy oil in huge quantities from Arabs who know that they are in a position to blackmail us. The British motorist has to pay a very high price already for his motoring (though MOTOR SPORT is still good value at 25 pence) without some shortsighted Whitehall official introducing some more restrictions. We have already cut our fuel consumption by 10% in the last year— surely the saving should be made elsewhere. If the Government offered incentives to industry and domestic consumers to use coal we could cut our oil requirements substantially and it would do our balance of payments no end of good.

What is also very disturbing is the ignorance and complacency of the British motorist. Many of those whom I have spoken to have said, “well, if it’s for the good of the country…” or something equally vacant. The only time that they will complain is when they are stopped for speeding and then it is too late to start complaining. I am sure that I do not have to remind MOTOR SPORT readers that when the fuel situation improves, it will be very difficult to get officialdom to raise the limit again. Remember all the clever “experts” who wanted to keep the 50 m.p.h. limit not very long ago.

One last point. I am sure that I am not alone in feeling that the Government does not have a great deal of sympathy towards high-performance cars. Certainly this latest series of limits will do little to help Aston Martin, Lotus and our other few surviving greats. I don’t doubt that these cars are secretly considered anti-social by the Whitehall boffins. Nevertheless, these cars earn valuable money for Britain when they are sold abroad. Will the Government consider this part of the high-performance car anti-social as well and refuse to accept taxes incurred from the selling of such cars? I doubt it.

Andover C. J. GILES

Bad for business

Sir,

More and more, the things Parliament does seem to have less and less relevance to life as it is. Seemingly laws are made for some other society in which none of us has any part.

On most days incredible edicts emerge. Today’s is the 50 m.p.h. limit, the net result of which for me is higher fuel consumption, increased time at work and greater risk of an early demise.

Living in South Lines, I am not able to use Motorways except by lengthening my journeys and then only to one of many destinations. Indeed dual carriageways are not something I of ten use. A day’s work frequently involves a 200-400 miles round trip to some village or other rural destination. To be legal the speed must be not 50 but 45-50.

I drive three cars on these journeys (one at a time) all fitted with overdrive for economy, which I shall not be able to use at the legal speed. Two of the cars won’t even run properly in top gear. The third car has been modified so that top equals third, which should be used in conjunction with overdrive, but in future won’t be.

Nobody can tell me that 200 miles in third gear uses less petrol than 200 miles in overdrive top.

If I am thinking of a new car there is no incentive to find a smaller engined car, because the maximum limit puts a premium on acceleration. Going by last winter’s experience I shall find myself most of the time in a queue at 35-40 with insufficient legal speed differential to pass anything. Under these circumstances boredom leads to less acute concentration and dozing off. (It’s all right as far as the bank or the Pub, but after the first hundred miles it’s a different matter.

So I make more stops for coffee etc. which just means I work longer hours and do less work. I might even have to use hotels more, but that surely is not the purpose of the speed limit. Where is the advantage? I cannot see it.

There is not even any real incentive to cut down the number of journeys. The only factor is the petrol price, but this is business motoring, and as a percentage of my total costs, petrol, though not ignored, is far from being a major factor.

If authority wants me to save fuel, it’s ridiculous to put me in a position where I must use more fuel to stay legal.

Spalding H. D. BOS