Letters from Readers, June 1977
In view of the recent comments in your columns on the subject of unmarked police cars, I feel my own experience might be of interest to readers. Though I too do not come out of it “unblemished”, I accept that I was in the wrong, and, as will be seen, I have had ample time to consider the error of my ways, and despite my own excesses, I feel that there are several disturbing aspects to the treatment meted out to me.
I was returning from the BDC meeting at Silverstone in July 1975, where I had been the guest of my insurance brokers at a luncheon. En route for my then-home, near Abingdon, I came down the A423 towards Oxford, and at Weston-on-the-Green I noticed that a yellow MG-B GT V8 had come up close behind me, occupied, so far as I could see, by two youngish men.
At the junction with the A43 Bicester-Oxford road I turned right towards Oxford, with the MG behind me. There then follows three or four miles of straight-ish two-lane road, which was fairly busy. Being in something of a hurry, and having a car well up to the task (an Alfetta), I proceeded to “hedge-hop” two or three cars at a time, going up to 70-ish in very short bursts, then back down to a queue-imposed 50. In doing this, I was of course breaking the law, but not for long enough at any one time for a police car to time me over the requisite distance. And the MG matched my every manoeuvre.
At Kidlington I joined the A34 Oxford ring-road, a dual-carriageway with less traffic on it, and the combination of this and the continuing, and by now rather aggravating, presence of the MG right behind me caused me to turn the wick up several notches! From Kidlington I proceded to the Botley roundabout, and then on along the ring-road for another two miles or so, to the turn-off onto the old A34 (Hinksey Hill).
It was when negotiating the roundabout leading on to Hinksey Hill that a strong aroma of rodent began to play round the nostrils, and to seconds later the boy-racer V8 MG had sprouted lights, sirens, spring-loaded signs in the rear window, and sundry other gadgets, and had – finally – overtaken and stopped me. He had followed me for just 12 miles!
I will summarise the rest. I was breathalysed, and subsequently found to have a reading of 88 mg. per 100 ml. (a low reading, as you will appreciate) – the result of three glasses of red wine for lunch. The officers timed me at 110 m.p.h, down one section of the ring-road, and 95-ish down the other. One irony here. “Slow” speedos are rare, but at the time I was supposed to have been doing 110, the speedometer in my beloved Alfetta was reading 95! But this paled into insignificance when I learned that I was to be “done” twice for speeding because I had gone round the roundabout between the two sections of the same ring-road, and had therefore committed an offence on “two” roads!! Really.
The denouement was the mandatory 12 months for the “bag”, and 2 months each for the two “speedings” and totting-up. (Two previous “economy limit” infringements, m’lud.) The last three were all reduced from a likely 6 months each after my counsel had pleaded an assortment of mitigating circumstances. Total 18 months. Now there will be those of you for whom any feelings of sympathy and/or indignation will be diluted by the belief that I got what I deserved, or at any rate, asked for! Nonetheless, I would ask you to consider the following “points arising”:
1) It seems to me that the job of the police, in enforcing motoring-law as well as all other types, should be to prevent breaches of those laws, where possible, not to encourage them, or at very least condone them, simply to ensure a conviction for the records. The officers in question claimed that they were unable to pass me and stop me before I reached the dual-carriageway, despite my constant “bursts” up to 70, which would have given them reason-enough to do so. I replied that they had no need to pass me – the “son-et-lumiere” display that they laid on later would have been enough. Not even an Alfetta could outrun a V8 MG on a straight road, and I certainly would not have been idiotic enough to try it. (They were close enough for me to see the rust-marks on the V8 badge.) They simply realised that they could not “book” me at that stage, so that the obvious alternative was to give me enough rope and let me hang myself.
2) At no time during those 12 1/2 miles could they fault my driving. Though it is not strictly relevant to a prima facie breach of the law, I feel this worth recording. Though I say it myself, my driving was impeccable – other than the actual speeds involved.
3) I do feel, whilst accepting that a line has to be drawn somewhere on the amount of alcohol permitted in the blood-stream, that a mandatory 12 months for any breach of the 80mg. rule is unfair. Surely a graded system would be preferable say 3 months (80-100mg.), 6 months (100-150mg.) and the full year for anything in excess of this. At the time of my conviction, a number of other cases were being given extensive publicity, involving blood-alcohol levels of 2, 3, and 400-plus mg. per 100 ml. – and the sentences were the same as mine. I was a very long way from being in the ricocheting off – the – parked – cars – and – falling – in – the – road – when – the – door – is – opened category!
4) I must record my agreement with your “Chelsea music-teacher” and “name and address supplied” (May issue) that, human nature being what it is, the boy-racer tactics which both they and I have experienced are bound to provoke breaches of the law which could otherwise be easily prevented, and increase the risks of an accident and a tragedy as alluded to by Chief Insp. Burton. Human nature cannot be discounted as irrelevant. If it is possible that a death or injury could be caused as a result of such provocation, such provocation is absolutely unforgiveable.
I hope, if nothing else, that my experiences and feelings will provoke thought and comment. As for me, when you read this, I will have regained my right to drive, and will be thoroughly enjoying the contrasting pleasures provided by a Fiat X1/9 and a Daimler 250 V8! (Both fitted with large rear-view mirrors!!).
London NW3. S. Park.