Matters of moment, May 1976

A sensible speed-limit suggestion

Police Chiefs, concerned with maintaining Law and Order in these troublesome times and keeping traffic flowing smoothly in our ever-more-congested cities, and having earned their high standing under these exacting conditions, must be more intelligent than politicians. So it is with much pleasure that we record the findings of P.B. Kavanagh, Assistant Traffic Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, relating to our out-dated and confusing speed-limits. Without boring you with all the detailed points made by Mr. Kavanagh, which were in any case quoted last month in our sister publication Motoring News, it can be said that the Assistant Traffic Commissioner has presented a sensible, well-thought-out case for raising speed-limits-in selected areas. His main points are that laws relating to speed-limits are broken more than any other, leading to disrespect for all speed-limits and contempt for the Establishment by otherwise law-abiding citizens, that enforcing unrealistic speed-limits is a lottery, arousing feelings of injustice among those who are prosecuted, good and bad drivers indiscriminately, so that such action has no lasting benefit in reducing overall speed or the accident-rate, and that artificial speed-limits make the real danger of high speed in the wrong place difficult to detect—by which we assume Mr. Kavanagh is thinking of the police uselessly playing with radar-sets on 30 m.p.h. straight-road areas when they might be patrolling usefully out-of-town roads of a dangerous nature, looking not only for excessive speed, but for other acts of dangerous and careless driving.

This enlightened Police Officer also makes the point that the police dislike enforcing needlessly low speeds where such are clearly, in the public’s view, inappropriate. He is, all through his sensible pronouncement, re-iterating what Motor Sport has been saying for a very long time. He agrees that speed, as such, is not to be frightened of (otherwise, no vehicle should be permitted to move) and he truly believes that safety can be increased by only operating realistic speed-limits. He makes the very sage point that safety is improved in this sphere “by allowing people to do some thing they obviously want to do and Which all the evidence supports”. This is obvious if you listen to normally decent citizens being fined and endorsed in the Courts for speeding offences. It will be tbund that the majority of such drivers, whose last wish is to have to face a charge of manslaughter, have gone “Over the top” by a few only. But instead of Authority raising the speed-limits for the roads in question, contempt for the Law and for the hard-tried police is fostered by more fines, more endorsements. This is particularly true in this age of entirely pointless 50 and 60 m.p.h. speed-limits extending over thousands of miles of roads where 70 m.p.h.

was once regarded as normal. When the “savage-seventies” were introduced, which reduced the value as transport arteries of Britain’s brave new Motorways, Motor Sport immediately organised that enormous 280,000 strong readers’ petition against this unnecessary restriction, and got Earl Howe, Graham Hill and Denny Hulme, etc. to present it to the MoT. We still think this 70-limit causes dangerous bunching, boredom leading to lack of concentration, and grave disrespect for the Law when licences are endorsed for exceeding it. When MOTOR SPORT campaigned for its abolition the Motorway warning-lights system had still to be perfected and proved. Now that such means of warning drivers of Motorway hazards exist, there is no reason to restrict speed on these fine roads, other than in .conditions Of ice, fog, abnormally heavy rain, or perhaps-atnight.

We feel that Mr. Kavanagh, in his excellent recommendation to the Highway Authorities, based on expert experience, must have had this danger-through-frustration, on roads restricted to 50 and 60 m.p.h. limits, and to 70 on Motorways in good weather, very much in mind. The very valid point he makes about interpreting public opinion and thereby avoiding further contempt for the Law is one Motor Sport has also been making for a very long time. Sooner than many think, there may come a confrontation in this country when, not to put too fine a point on it, the police will be glad to have the co-operation of every law-abiding citizen as never before—it will he most unfortunate if motor-vehicle drivers, many of them young and impressionable, refuse to show much enthusiasm, on account of jobs lost, hard-earned money confiscated, as a result of speeding endorsements and fines.

We are not hopeful that any early change will be made as a follow-up to Mr. Kavanagh’s valid suggestions. The driver who is caught going a thought faster than one of the multitude of prevailing speed-limits permits, without any consideration being taken of prevailing conditions, or of his or her driving experience, etc., constitutes too ready a source of easily-gained Police Court revenue, alas.

Only last February in these columns we discussed another factor which brings the Law into contempt—the motorists’ disbelief that VASCAR speed-traps are foolproof and absolutely fair. Leaving aside the possibility that the policeman who prods the button may see the whole silly exercise as so futile (as Mr. Kavanagh has put it—enforcement is a lottery, a lottery enforced by police who may well be lukewarm) that he doesn’t much care what the result is, we find it unconvincing to be told that this costly VASCAR equipment, which in spite of its grandiose title is just a simple box of tricks with no radar to aid it, is scrupulously accurate, especially when aimed at shadows on the road, perhaps that of the Offending vehicle itself, at a change in road surface, at a little patch of tarmac, or even sighted on “a squashed hedgehog”, as one VASCAR advocate has it. Nor do we feel happy that this is human-timing (funny to revert from radar-beam to hand-timing), particularly when the operator is looking in the rear-view mirror or through the rear window of a police car….

Wouldn’t it be nice if, as Mr. Kavanagh has suggested, only realistic speed-limits were enforced, resulting in far fewer disgruntled, anti-police citizens about the place ? Rights are best obtained by fighting for them. With the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police on our side, the RAC, AA, the motoring clubs, the motor papers, and everyone concerned, should press the advantage home.