Matters of moment, March 1970

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Hands off the motor car

The human race has not yet found a means of living peacefully together on one planet and in this country it certainly has not learned to live with the motor car, although self-propelled vehicles have been with us for quite some time and are not going to fade quietly away overnight. Indeed, private transportation is expected to increase at the rate of another 20-million cars on our roads by 1980. Consequently, it is time politicians, journalists, Police Chiefs and Magistrates grew up and accepted the motor car calmly, as something inevitable, which does more good, for instance in terms of full employment, gives more pleasure, than it does harm, in spite of all the propaganda about the “toll of the road”—much as we deplore accidents and think they could by sensible means be reduced.

Yet what do we find? Road casualty figures flashed on TV screens over public holidays whether they show an increase or not, when other calamities, for instance ‘flu deaths, fatalities in the home and the mounting toll of air, even rail, accidents, are statistically ignored. Drivers of private cars cover a far greater mileage with accident freedom than any other section of the unskilled public in control of “lethal weapons”. Are they commended ? They are not!

Trapped by radar, hedged about by a thousand legalities, stalked by traffic wardens, when caught they are fined out of all proportion to the committed “crimes” and stand to lose their licences if apprehended for three often trivial offences, with no account taken of a praiseworthy clean record over a long period. There is strong evidence that discontent is growing on the motoring front. Not only in respect of ever-increasing taxation, insurance costs, etc., but because of the injustice meted out in the Courts in motoring cases. More and more readers are objecting, not so much to being caught doing a few m.p.h. over a prescribed speed-limit, with the usually fatuous influence this has on accident prevention, but to the heavy fines and endorsements that invariably follow.

It really is time we tried to live with the motor car. Yet what do we find? The Rt. Hon. Quintin Hogg, M.P., when making a political point in the Sunday Express, saying quite sensibly that risk is inseparable from human life…. “The plane we travel in may crash. In an operation, we may die under the anaesthetic. In an injection, we may lose our life or a limb from septicaemia” … and then getting hysterical and continuing “On a motor road, a tyre may burst, or an oncoming car crash over the barrier and smash us to pulp”. Suggesting that motor cars pulp you worse than aeroplanes, trains or germs. . . !

Then there was that lady doctor on TV who said the pill was much less dangerous than the motor car; she may or may not fear pregnancy but if she is honest presumably walked to the studio? And there is Veronica Papworth of the Sunday Express writing that the House of Commons is wasting its time debating better warnings on fog-bound Motorways when “they must know full well” . .. that, “to stop the speed-crazy, compulsory and permanent governors must be fitted to every engine, to set a top speed of 60 for big, 50 m.p.h. for smaller cars”. This piffle hasn’t even the merit of originality and Miss Papworth, in wanting so desperately to “cut speed fiends down to size — with a governor”, fails to explain how this could be done without reducing every car’s accelerative powers to those of a centennial hippopotamus. thus removing one performance safety-factor, apart from bringing traffic virtually to a halt.

This kind of nonsense stems from the too obvious fact that the authorities have not got round to living with the motor car. It is high time they did. Ordinary drivers cope pretty well and gain much from experience, in spite of the dice being so heavily loaded against them. They, more than those in power against them, know how to live with the horseless carriage! But car owners are getting fed-up with rising costs (car taxes up by 200% over the last 10 years) and growing persecution. If they should ever revolt, as the disgruntled farmers are doing — and motorists could be a tougher proposition — those in authority will have only themselves to blame.

The Avengers
Last month the Rootes Group announced their Hillman Avenger saloons, in 1300 (£766) and 1500 (£903) versions. So far we have only tried these cars — not to be confused with an Escort — round a Malta airfield but next month MOTOR SPORT will publish a full account of driving a 1500 Avenger on British roads.