When we concluded last month’s editorial by expressing the sentiment that we faced 1966 with confidence and enthusiasm we never thought for a moment that Tom Frazer, Labour Minister of Transport, would introduce a universall speed limit on all roads in this country, including our much publicised and expensive Motorways.
The effects of a universal 70-m.p.h. speed limit are so far-reaching as to represent near-disaster for this country. To argue against such legislation is difficult, because human life is involved, and had Mr. Fraser introduced speed restriction for the winter months of November-February, exempting Motorways, one would have seen the reasoning of a non-motoring Transport Minister (we believe Mr. Fraser goes to his official duties by train, after getting to the station in an A.40).
But to casually announce that from December 22nd to after Easter every road in Britain will be subject to a top speed of 70 m.p.h. (and 30, 40, 50 or what have you, in many places) is a very different matter. In the first place, it is liable. to be so dangerous.
Good, safe driving on our congested, inadequate roads calls, above every thing, for concentration. And you cannot concentrate on what is ahead, beside and behind you while glancing every few hundred yards to make sure your speedometer is not registering over 70-m.p.h. Again, frustrated drivers are usually bad drivers. But, where before, business motorists on long journeys were content to regulate their speed to road and weather conditions, comforted by the thought that time could be regained by doing 80-90 m.p.h. on deserted straights and cruising, as their cars were shod and designed to do, at 100 m.p.h. or so along the M-roads, some of them in future are going to become dangerously frustrated by having to keep everywhere to 69.9 .m.p.h., and will probably keep close to this speed far too often, in the wrong places. (Mr. Frazer must not ask what such motorists do with the time they save when in the same breath, the Government shouts loudly of the huge sums Britain loses for every minute her transport vehicles are stationary in traffic jams.)
And we do not for a moment believe that motorways will be used to anything like the full extent of Mr. Frazer’s generous speed-limit. Because many speedometers are about 5% fast 70 m.p.h., and allowing that most drivers, anxious to safeguard their driving licence, will proceed with the needle at 68 or thereabouts, we shall have queues of close packed traffic moving along the motorways at 63 m.p.h. (And it may well be that, influenced by good, or for that matter bad, accident figures, the M.o.T. may decide to lower the 70 to a universal 60, and later to a universal 50 m.p.h.)
The excuse will be, no doubt, that they do it in America. But Britain is not an American state—yet! Remember, Mr. Fraser, that they don’t make sports cars in the U.S.A.—they import them from Britain. If sports cars cease to have any purpose in this 70-m.p.h. Island, a very valuable export commodity will have been lost. Remember, too, Mr. Fraser, that American automobiles, with their drum brakes, low-geared steering and flabby suspension, are not particularly safe at high speeds. In the admission of one of their own motor journals, they are, with very few exceptions, “created from the viewpoint of the customer who does not like to drive”, so a speed limit applied to such automobiles and such drivers does not automatically become something to copy proudly in a country a very different cars, drivers and roads. That is something else to remember, Mr. Fraser—a speed limit of 65 or 70 m.p.h. may he terribly frustrating in America, but at least such speeds, maintained on trans-continental turn-pikes, can result in an average speed in the order of a-mile-a minute. On our inadequate two-lane and three-lane roads, which are all the tax-bled motorist has for most of the way, twisting drunkenly, as G. K. Chesterton-observed, most of the time, keen drivers in fast cars should be encouraged, because only by using reasonably high speed in the right places, most of all along the Motorways, can averages of even 40 m.p.h. be accomplished across Britain. And a reasonable flow of traffic, a worthwhile saving in transport time, is essential to productivity and National survival.
If it is on the grounds of saving human casualties that the Minister of Transport justifies slowing down British road transport, he is surely on shaky ground ? Six out of every ten accidents we are told, happen in towns, at speeds therefore of under 40 and mostly at under 30 m.p.h. The experimental holiday-period 50-m.p.h. speed-limits were never proved to have contributed one iota to accident prevention and many of us believed they added to the risk, by reducing concentration, making overtaking hazardous, bunching up the traffic and causing frustration.
If this is so, what justification can there be for restricting powerfully-braked, stable modern cars to a top speed 30 m.p.h. higher than that of the heaviest, most unwieldly commercial vehicle, even on our much-vaunted Motorways? We were about to add that the next four months’ accident figures will tell—but as an accident is anything from a sad fatality to a grazed mudguard, and statistics, especially official statistics, can be made to prove anything, we are not so sure. . . .
We are told this 70-business is here for an experimental period of four months. But will it ever be rescinded ? It may well result in the fall of the Labour Government, if Britain’s millions of road-users exercise their vote sensibly. But the Conservatives might well be embarrassed about rescinding something which, by a quirk of the weather, having nothing to do with speed, could cause a freak batch of accident figures which could result in them being labelled “killers” by those with a grudge against modern motoring. So, unless you raise your voices within the next few weeks, pointing out to the prevailing Government that this is a move detrimental to British economy while being extremely unlikely to reduce accidents, we are certain to be saddled forever with this futile restriction, a restriction, Mr. Fraser, which, while it hits at some of the safest cars on the road, does nothing to render less accident-prone those motorists who seldom exceed 40 m.p.h. or 60 on the M-ways—a bit of thoughtless legislation aimed at the skilful driver, in fact. Whereas good Government, we thought, functioned on the principle that it’s laws were laws for the good of all its citizens. . .
But even though only a minority of drivers exceeded 70 m.p.h. and it was left to the majority of 40-m.p.h. unskilled, non-concentrating, nervous mimsers to have the accidents, as we suspect they will continue to do, the economic and social effects of Fraser’s elimination of the over-70s will be very serious indeed.
When he opened the Earls Court Motor Exhibition, Mr. Brown praised its products and its importance and went on to say that he wanted Britain’s Motor Industry to be the greatest industry in the land. A month later the Minister of Transport in the same Government may very likely have suspended the sales on the Home Market of many of this Industry’s most exportable products—perhaps forever.
Because who is going to buy a sports car, from the new fastback M.G.-B. to a Jaguar E-type, when such cars are restricted to a speed lower than they can attain in 3rd gear ? Who is going to spend many thousands of pounds on cars like Aston Martins, Bristols, Daimler Majestics, Jaguar Mk. 10s, the new Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and similar luxury vehicles if the performance which made them so costly is unusable by law-abiding drivers (or those not prepared to drive without a licence!) and only the leather and the tree-wood remain—which you can get in a Vanden Plas 1100, anyway ? Who indeed!
The same depressing reasoning affects the concessionaires of fast foreign cars like Maserati, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Iso Griffo, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz 230SL, etc. Yet we thought the Labour leaders accused the Tories of being the party not adverse to unemployment! For, obviously, when you can only lumber legally along the M-roads at 70, you are not going to buy motorway tyres, tuning kits, super petrol, or even a very fast motor car. If you had not realised how many manufacturers and concessionaires sell speed amongst other qualities in their cars, consider these quotes from recent advertisements, since outmoded by a single gestuire of Tom Fraser’s :—
“cruising at 100 m.p.h. with a top speed of 130 m.p.h.” (Bristol).
“You may be a comfort lover who enjoys the utter luxury as it cruises at a whisper-quiet 100-plus ” (B.M.W. 1800TI).
“Cruise at comfort at 70-80 m.p.h.” (Vauxhall Victor 101).
“Speeds up to 100 m.p.h. from 5-bearing crankshaft engine ” (M.G.-B).
“Quiet motoring all the way up to nearly 100 m.p.h.” (Wolseley 6/110).
“Top speed up to 125 m.p.h.—the fastest sports car you can own for less than £1,560 ” (Austin Healey 3000).
“A car giving fantastic performance ” (AC. 427).
“It boosts top speed to nearly 90 m.p.h.” (Ford Corsair V4).
And ” Anyone doing under 100 m.p.h.—pull over! ” (Alfa Romeo Giulia Super.)
Does Tom Fraser really believe these to be advertisements published by soulless makers of lethal weapons with no concern for public safety ? And if not, will he tell these manufacturers how to sell their products, now that these over-70s, like many old people, are unwanted and uncared for ?
The universal British Speed Limit will undoubtedly result in a lower standard of driving and car purchase. Some cranks may still spend much money on fast cars they mustn’t drive fast—old men have been seen in Jaguar E-types doing a careful 70—and some purist may go for a four-wheel-drive Jensen FF because it should be safer on occasionally encountered black ice at 40 than a normal car at 20. But these customers won’t keep the manufacturers of fast cars alive—and the Motor Industry has always stated very clearly that without a virile Home Market it cannot export.
Certainly there will be a change of outlook on car purchase after next April if the over-70s are still beyond the Law. Who is going to invest in a Mercedes-Benz 250 or 300, when a 200 will be less expensive and lighter on fuel ? Who, unless they are going racing, will want a Mini-Cooper S which exceeds the speed limit without getting into top gear, when a normal Mini will suffice, or a Hillman Super Imp when a normal Imp does 70? Who will want a Plus 4 or an Elan, away from the circuits ? In America, where petrol is cheap, they go for big engines and big cars, for acceleration and comfort, but they don’t sell effective production sports or GT cars. Now, in England, “sports,” “TI,” “GT,” even “Super” have become dirty words. The effect on sales will be unpredictable.
The petrol and rubber companies will survive the loss of revenue on super fuels and highspeed tyres, but the Motor Trade in general, the smaller firms in particular, are in for a lean time. No longer will 100-m.p.h. Z-cars be required by Police Forces which have shown a lamentable inability to catch dangerous criminals or to hold them if they do so, because now most of them will presumably be manning radar apparatus on our proud Motorways—any car capable of around 8o m.p.h. will suffice to catch the Criminal-Motorist. . . .
From imposing an overall 70-m.p.h. speed-limit it is surely a logical step to forbid any vehicle being built to exceed this velocity ? This means banning most of the present-day production cars, for even ordinary 848-c.c. Minis and 875-c.c. Imps exceed this dangerous pace if fully extended, while there are some truly disgusting vehicles, looking like family saloons, which actually exceed 70 in 3rd gear, like the Austin 1800, Ford Corsair GT, Fiat 1300, Simca 1500, Vauxhall Cresta. etc. In future, these could he superfluous. The Morris-Oxford Diesel, Renault 4L estate car, DAF Daffodil and Fiat 500 are quite legal, being incapable of exceeding Fraser’s top speed, and the ideal Labour Party Car is the busy Bedford Beagle, for a contemporary’s road-test report shows this vehicle to have a top velocity of exactly 70 m.p.h.! (It could be that Labour’s Minister of Transport was trying to be patriotic, because this same weekly shows a VW 1200 to be capable of 71 m.p.h. Or did Fraser fix his limit so as not to upset comrades who travel M1 in Midland Red ‘buses at 70 m.p.h.
Joking apart, the strain of restraining a really quick car from going over 70 m.p.h. will be considerable, nor is driving skill going to be at much of a premium in the new Safety Britain. The ban on the over-70s will not stop motoring but it will seriously curtail the sporting aspect, and pride in good driving. The very small minority of vintage-car enthusiasts who regularly use pre-1931 cars will not suffer, because even if some of their cars happily exceeded 70 m.p.h. over a quarter of a century ago, they do not thrive in their old age from being flogged. True-blue owners of p.v.t. Rolls-Royces seem fairly happily placed, because such cars are not much joy above the mile-a-minute mark. Nor do we consider that the Trojan Owners’ Club has any cause to complain. . . .
Of course, there should be some financial compensation. Insurance premiums on sports and other high-performance cars cannot any longer be loaded and some nice refunds should become due during the next four months! Motor-tax should be reduced as well, of course. Incidentally, will all the end of speed limit signs be replaced laboriously by 70 legends ? Finally, we never condone assassinations but if anyone is gunning for Tom Fraser it mostly should be a racing driver, on the grounds that members of this profession earn a lot of money at speeds over 70 m.p.h. and would make the quickest getaway afterwards!
But this really is no laughing matter. We consider Mr. Fraser has done his country and his party a dis-service by taking panic legislation without proper thought. Will he save lives ? Only future accident returns, related to vehicle miles, can answer that. Meanwhile, express your views to the R.A.C., A.A., your M.P., and especially to Tom Fraser, unless you want this futile speed limit to be permanent.