Speed and Safety

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Technical advances have made cars safer than ever, yet the 70 mph speed-limit still applies to our motorway network. It is exceeded by 10 mph by many drivers, as is the antiquated 30 mph town restriction. New motorways such as the M25 have been built to ease traffic flow, yet hysteria continues to exist about using them.

Even John Lyon, the respected BSM High-Performance Driving Course instructor, advocates a very full check-over of your car before you dare drive on a motorway, including filling it to the brim with petrol, which overlooks engineers’ efforts to ensure long between-servicing periods for modern vehicles. Lyon also tells you to stop every two hours, “for loo, fuel, snack and stretch”. This suggests a fuel-range of only 130 miles — and surely anyone who needs a loo and food every two hours should see a doctor?

Such hysteria is associated with speed, always the scapegoat where road accidents are concerned. Motorways on the Continent are used for all-day journeys, and some in Germany are exempt from speed-limits. Here, hysteria prevails over just driving a car. Lyon has written that when sounding the horn you should use your weaker hand, keeping the stronger one for steering and curling the fingers over the spoke to help you.

Resting a hand on the gear-lever on straight roads has been criticised, the inference being that both hands are essential for controlling a car, and that the time required to get the idle hand back on the wheel could prove fatal. What rubbish!

When this hysteria exists over simple driving procedures, how can the fact that speed is safe, if properly used, ever be got across, even though the motorcar has been with us for more than 100 years? Bad driving is a far greater hazard than sensibly-used speed, but it has long been our opinion that the average motorist does not do badly given the vast mileages covered in all weathers, often on inadequate roads and surrounded by bicycles, pedestrians and slow-moving trucks.

We appreciate that high-performance courses and racing drivers’ schools impart much of use, but how closely can one driver judge another, rank dangerous driving excepted?

Concerned that some motor industry PROs may one day refuse test cars to journalists they consider insufficiently competent, the Guild of Motoring Writers is recommending its members to take the IAM test (65 out of 373 had passed at the last count). The difficulty is that methods of conducting a car vary, but can still be safe.

Going to extremes, a top rally or racing driver in a hurry might well seem suicidal to Auntie or the district nurse, and might raise even our eyebrows, while remaining essentially safe. Nigel Mansell would probably scare Auntie’s pants off, without for one moment frightening himself. Years ago the late Holland Birkett and his friends evolved the famous “tenths” assessment of different drivers, which underlines the problem.

Cars are becoming better all the time and should be allowed more leniency regarding speed in the right places. Come to think of it, should not those driving 4WD cars receive a tax bonus for reducing the work needed to clear snow-bound winter roads? Joking apart, is it not time we accepted the motorcar with less hysteria, while taking all possible steps to obviate the calamities in which it can be involved?