Matters of moment, June 1963

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Wider use of disqualification for traffic offences from 29th May 1963

The writer went into a post office recently to buy a stamp, in a happy frame of mind. He came out a Very Angry Motorist. For on the counter was a leaflet bearing the pronouncement shown above, the worst piece of anti-motoring propaganda Marples has yet devised.

For this leaflet not only told in large black letters of wider use of DISQUALIFICATION, but told the morbid tale of nearly 7,000 killed on our roads every year, another 350,000 injured, while omitting to inform the public who will read this leaflet that inadequate roads are the major cause of this tragic record, that motorists have paid hundreds of times over for better roads that were never built because the Road Fund has been continually raided by successive governments, yet the accident rate in terms of vehicle miles run shows a creditable decrease.

This leaflet, issued by the M.o.T., lists six offences which, three days ago, became offences bringing automatic disqualification for at least a year and 20 more for which a driver can be disqualified at the discretion of the Court. These latter offences range from a first offence for dangerous driving, careless driving and contravention of any speed-limit, to minor technical offences which even the most careful and conscientious driver is apt to commit from time to time, and include stealing a motor vehicle! Automatic disqualification follows three convictions in three years—in other words, even the least accident-prone drivers are unlikely to have their licences in 1966 unless a reasonable modicum of luck is with them!

This is Ernest Marples’ spring-gift to the luckless motorist— and the new Act, which also maliciously puts up fines for most road offences from £20 to £50, is a very serious affair for those to whom a licence is essential to their livelihood, and that includes professional racing drivers. Drivers of Public Service and commercial vehicles will surely consult their Unions about the “three-in-three-years ” clause? Private motorists need a strong organisation to look after their interests. We are astonished at the complacency of the R.A.C. and A.A. and most of the motor journals. Their attitude is that if you drive properly all will be well, although the Standing Joint Committee of the R.A.C., A.A. and R.S.A.C. feels that May 29th was too soon to introduce the new laws and that a review of speed limits should have been completed first. They point out that disqualification for 20 of the 26 offences is at the discretion of the magistrates—a fat lot of help that will be, in a county where a driver who helped a blind man cross a road, inadvertently leaving his car between a crossing and its studs, which were obscured by snow, was fined £5 (News of the World, March 24th), a driver who splashed two pedestrians paid £3 and £7 7s. costs (Daily Express, April 1st), etc., etc., but in which Dr. Beeching, who used a car without a licence, was let off with a “compromise penalty” of £1 (The People, April 21st).

This time Marples has gone too far, as Robert Glenton, a staunch liberal, proclaimed in the Sunday Express on May 5th. Marples has a tough task, granted. It is exceedingly difficult to present the motorists’ case to the lay-public, who see any call for leniency and understanding as an excuse to condone “speeding and slaughter.” The first six “disqualification clauses” are fair, providing casual witnesses and ignorant police and magistrates do not regard as dangerous driving, manoeuvres which are safe and entirely permissible when performed by skilled, experienced drivers. But the remaining 20 include offences any driver in modern traffic on our inadequate roads can commit so easily that disqualification is altogether too harsh for a first offence, or for three of the more trivial offences in three years.

It may be that, faced with closure of many railway services, Marples hopes to rid the roads of private motorists, thus making room for his new outsize lorries. Certainly the M.o.T. leaflet referred to cannot fail to put drivers in bad odour with the public and encourage police and magistrates to deal more harshly with motorists than ever before, at exorbitant cost to the Nation in time and paper work. It is high time pleasure motorists, professional drivers and their families took action to protect their interests. What can they do? Glenton, in his fighting attack on Marples, slated the apathy of the A.A. and R.A.C., who are content to accept your subscription and sit back and do nothing. He advocated writing at once to your M.P. (We did this, but to date, 14 days later, no reply has been received from our conservatively-minded Morris-owning Parliamentary representative!) Perhaps drivers of all political parties would be advised to refrain from voting at the next General Election, stating when asked to do so: “No, we are persecuted motorists.” Unless it gives Marples the push instead of a Peerage, the Conservative Party may soon find itself out of power.

Let it be remembered that no country can properly control its affairs when an appreciable proportion of its population regards the police as its enemy and its laws as antiquated, vicious and unfair. Let Conservative M.P.s count the motoring families of Britain, and the astronomical sums they contribute in taxation. Let them do this with a copy of the pernicious DISQUALIFICATION leaflet in their hand.

Then let them ask the question: Are these new penalties fair to the average decent law-abiding; heavily-taxed driver? Ask yourself a question: What are the chances of escaping disqualification and heavy fines from now on, no matter how well and carefully you drive? If the answer seems unsatisfactory, if your motoring future somehow, since May 29th, has seemed unhappily insecure, read the important announcement on page 443.

We say, no penalty is too severe for habitually dangerous drivers, drunk and drugged drivers and car thieves. But we also say, fight for a square deal for the majority of decent drivers and road-users, who can all too easily break at least ten of the new disqualification clauses Part B, 1-20, without being careless, let alone criminal. This time let us show Marples, whose bright ideas do not seem to reduce accidents, that he has gone too far….

It pays to run a ‘bike’

We reprint front the Sunday Sun (Newcastle) the following letter and its Editor’s note.

“On Monday I was going from my business to my home, north of Newcastle, at approximately 5.30 p.m. My route takes me from Westgate Road, along Wingrove Road to Cowgate, and then to Kenton Bank.

Drawing to a halt at the junction of Wingrove Road and Fenham Hall Drive, I was surprised and somewhat shaken to hear a most peremptory motor-car horn being repeatedly used.

Two short lines of traffic were moving slowly to the halt when a police car, followed by a luxury vehicle, obviously containing one or more V.I.P.s and followed by yet another police car, appeared alongside.

The driver of the first car was waving traffic to the side of the road.

The driver of the car ahead of me was obviously distracted and in an effort to get quickly to the kerb appeared to hit it.

The convoy then proceeded towards Cowgate and appeared obviously to be travelling to Newcastle Airport .

Travelling at 28-30 m.p.h. myself, I was amazed to see the convoy pulling rapidly away, in spite of the heavy traffic at this time of day and the quite large number of pedestrians in the Cowgate area arriving home from work.

I am intrigued as to who this important person was who is apparently entitled to use methods denied to respectable, tax-paying and constantly hounded motorists.

“Indignant.”
Longhorsely. Morpeth.

[Editor’s note: The Important Person was that ardent road-safety advocate, Mr. Marples, Minister of Transport.]”