Matters of moment, July 1973



• The clobbering continues . . .

We have received the most encouraging support over the editorial “Stop Clobbering Us” which appeared in the February issue, although, as we exposed in the May Motor Sport, neither Mr. Heath nor the Minister for Transport Industries are prepared to improve matters, apart from taking the 50 m.p.h. speed-limit off the new Oxford ring-road.

Although motor vehicle owners contribute astronomical sums to the national economy, they are being driven from pillar to post, or should we say from the petrol pumps through endless restrictions and radar traps? There has been the fatuous suggestion by an MP that all cars capable of 100 m.p.h. should be banned from the roads. Such a move would ruin Britain’s export prospects in markets where greater motoring freedom prevails. The furthest that even cautious America ever went in this respect was to advocate a ban on horsepower figures being published in advertisements and even this veiled suggestion that the output of the big Detroit power units was, as Rolls-Royce would express it, “adequate”, was soon abandoned. But in this country, where cars still sell as objects of pride and enthusiasm and not as mere transportation, restriction follows restriction. The motorcyclists have lost their stand against compulsory wearing of helmets—not the sensible self-adoption of them, be it noted—and unless motorists are more successful we shall all soon be belted compulsorily to our cars, with endorsements doled out if we forget or object. (Can you imagine the electrical troubles which will result when authority goes one better and insists that the ignition is so wired that the engine will not start unless we are all strapped into our seats?). Motor journals which, you might think, should be concerned with the enjoyment of driving, are taking readers’ votes over such matters; apparently forgetting that a few tens-of-thousands of form fillers will hardly count for much, when the Motor Sport 280,000-signature petition over the abolition of the 70-limit on Motorways went unheeded—unless it turned officialdom away from a 60 m.p.h. limit, and the AA has been losing support for siding with safety-belt compulsion without first consulting its members.

Then there is the quite astonishing threat to force drivers to a crawl on side-roads by setting up artificial bumps or “sleeping policemen”, with no regard, apparently, for the damage these would cause, even at a crawl, to the suspension systems of the older cars, or the obvious danger to motorcyclists. We have police authorities and the press calling the third lane of our Motorways the “fast” lane, whereas it is the overtaking lane, or would be were it not littered with cars doing well below 70 m.p.h., a view endorsed recently by one enlightened Chief Constable.

The EEC is now on about compulsory fitting by 1974 of laminated windscreens on new cars capable of exceeding 130 k.p.h. and on all cars by 1976—a pity that the Conservative MP for Southampton West, who rose to protect owners of the older cars from such additional and unnecessary expense, quoting a R-R Silver Ghost as capable of the named speed, was so mis-informed as to say that such cars are often in their manufactured state, whereas, of course, safety glass is compulsory even for them. And now we have Chief Inspector Julian Tyler, Head of Kent Police Public Relations, advocating drivers telling on each other for supposed rule-breaking (St. Christopher deliver us!) and asking those who think they are doing 70 m.p.h. in what he wrongly calls the Motorway fast-lane to stay there, refusing to move over, no matter how much light-flashing and horn-blowing they are subjected to. One wonders whether Chief Inspector Tyler extends this to police cars in a hurry and whether he seriously considers that drivers intent on jotting down the numbers of any cars which they think have impeded them, together with “those whose drivers could be witnesses”, are likely to be safe while engaged on this informer’s task? And whether, before Kent is over-run with police-condoned do-gooders and its courts are choked with innocent drivers attempting to defend themselves against such police-advocated Nazism, his Chief Constable will remove him to a job where he can do less harm to police/public propaganda and may even occupy himself with the repression of real, serious crime.

In the face of all this anti-motoring ammunition, David Blackburn, Chairman of BMW Concessionaires GB Ltd., spoke up for the sensible use of safe modern cars recently, calling the 70 m.p.h. limit “completely unrealistic”, as it results in dangerous bunching, could lessen future safety standards, and cause lower levels of road-holding, braking and driving to become acceptable. He said he would prefer heavier penalties for bad driving and unroadworthy cars than an unrealistic Motorway speed-limit which “has not lowered the casualty rate”.

Mr. Blackburn will no doubt be labelled a vested interest, in spite of the common sense he talks. But let us not allow the politicians to become too unctuous. A reader with a long memory reminds us that when Peter Walker was the Shadow Minister of Transport he was quoted as saying, in a Vauxhall Motorist interview, that the 30 m.p.h. limit was “too low” and that “facts may show that a 70-limit is too low for Motorways and that it encourages bunching and large multiple accidents so common in America”. He said his feeling was that the Motorway limit should be 80 or 90 m.p.h. What now, Mr. Walker? We do not always agree with the Sunday Express. We were surprised that this great newspaper saw fit to attack the Judge who had a man brought before him for making an obscene sign at the Judicial car. If there is to be no respect for our Judges, what next? Should workers and school-children be permitted to treat their bosses and teachers in this vulgar manner? Wouldn’t John Gordon mind if, on leaving his office, his staff did it to him? However, it is good to have big-circulation rallying to our cause. So note that on June 3rd Mr. Gordon wrote of Mr. Heath’s government: “They have just decided that all motor-cyclists and their passengers must wear crash helmets. And hope soon to force motorists to wear seat belts whether they believe in their effectiveness or not. . . . They are stamping down on anyone who breaks the speed limit even in the safest conditions. They are getting to the point when it will be illegal to suck a wine gum while driving a car.”

You can’t say you haven’t been warned. . . .