Avant Ye, Po Faces

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by Anthony Bird.

On July the 28th a sinister little paragraph appeared in Motor warning readers that from August 1st, 1973, it will be illegal to fit multi-tuned or musical horns to new cars. This new restriction we are told is adopted in order “to align our law with existing EEC provisions”. One might think such paltry stuff is not worth making a song and dance about, but it does prompt a two-part question. If somebody actually likes a warning device which plays the Dead March or Colonel Bogey, why should this perhaps silly but undeniably innocent conceit be denied him, and particularly why should it be denied at the behest of some dim committee of po-faced bureaucrats in Brussels?

The only reason which carries an ounce of weight is that the warning of a musical horn might possibly go unheeded it’ a street band were playing the same phase of the same tune at the same moment. If this is the reason then it’s pretty dam’ silly, but our po-faced friend’s (well, not my friends) were probably influenced by the feeling that musical horns are vulgar (and what business is it of theirs to adjudicate upon taste?) or funny – and fun, of course, is the one thing up with which the po-faces of the world cannot put.

It is no use repining that Great Britain has been hitched to the creaking Common Market band-wagon, but surely some of our native po-faces could make a stand against the sillier aspects of European regulation mongering? We can already see that our ministers and officials are shuffling their feet. and, despite their brave words, are about to yield over such matters as lorry sizes and weights. The ban on musical horns is but a straw in the wind and The Editor of MOTOR SPORT is not alone in fearing that EEC Regulations will ultimately force many veteran and vintage cars off the road.

The trouble with regulation making is that the regulation mongers are often too rigid in their approach and pay no heed to the possibilities of future development. Also, they are reluctant to un-make a regulation once the need for it is past. For example, early in the century some cars, Lanchesters in particular, were fitted with very agreeable two-tone, cling-clang gongs, which made a civilised warning in city streets as they were less apt to startle the unwary pedestrian or cyclist than the usual horn. These gongs were banned on the grounds that they might be confused with the bells of fire engines or ambulances; but now all such vehicles, and police ears, have nasty American-style sirens will the po-faces let private motorists have their warning bells back? Not on your Nelly.

The worst aspect of regulation mongering is that there is a growing tendency amongst both home and continental po-faces to make unnecessary regulations, usually framed in incomprehensible language, about matters which would be better left to common sense and the common law. All po-faces should have framed upon their office walls the imperishable dictum of Lord Melbourne: “Let well alone”.

A current example of the too-rigid approach is found in the requirement that all motor bicycle and moped riders must wear approved-pattern crash helmets, It would hurt nobody and please many if this regulation stipulated that all riders must wear either helmets of approved pattern, or cloth turbans of a minimum length of such-and-such, wound in the traditional Sikh fashion and kept in place, whilst riding, by a suitable net and chin strap. Any hope that the po-faces would accept such a simple and common-sensical compromise is little better than a Sikh joke.

A perfect example of the way in which regulation mongers disregard possible future developments, and therefore, in effect, freeze progress, is found in the grand-daddy of all motoring laws. This is the 1865 Locomotives on Highways Act, framed to regulate the use of heavy agricultural traction engines which were occasionally used for road haulage work. The Act stipulated, amongst other things, that each locomotive in motion must have at least three persons “in attendance” upon it. One had to walk ahead with a red flag to give warning and to help control restive horses. In the context of the time this was a sensible provision, though overcautious, and as the traction engines required two men to drive them, one to stoke and look after the engine controls whilst the other steered, it was also fair enough to insist on having two men on the engine. The po-faces of the time, however, left no loophole for the use of lighter, smaller locomotives, designed for one-man operation and consequently there was little incentive for designers to improve the breed. It was thirty years before the po-faces reluctantly acknowledged that what had made limited sense for a ten ton engine pulling twenty tons of threshing equipment, made no sense for a two hundredweight motor tricycle.

The regulation mongers not infrequently get egg on their po-faces by legislating on technical matters which they clearly do not understand. By the ‘Emancipation’ Act of 1896 motorists were condescendingly allowed to use tyres of “elastic material”, i.e. solid rubber or pneumatic rubber tyres; but they had to be of certain widths in relation to weight of vehicle, and the width was to be “the width when not subject to pressure”. For pneumatic tyres this is a pretty odd regulation and would making judging the width a bit hazardous. Worse, the tyres of elastic material had to be “smooth and fiat” where they touched the ground; i.e. any form of anti-skid tread pattern was actually forbidden, presumably to avoid damaging the roads although the steel wheels of traction engines were still allowed their bars and projections which really did dig into the surface.

Now, nearly eighty years later, solid rubber tyres are not allowed to be used on motorways. Why? Presumably to exclude the few, the very few, multi-wheeled, solid-tyre low-loaders which Pickfords were still using for exceptional loads until recently. There may be a case for keeping these off motorways, but what harm could be done if somebody drove a veteran Benz or a vintage Trojan car on a motorway? And this regulation prompts the question: “When is a pneumatic tyre not a pneumatic tyre?” When one of the new-fangled total mobility tyres loses its wind and runs with the weight taken on its thick rubber walls, suitably lubricated with the patent gunge, has it not become a solid tyre within the meaning of the regulation? What a nice point for lawyers to grow fat arguing.

In Switzerland I believe it is now illegal to use motor cars without four-wheel brakes. It is all Regent Street to a raspberry ice that the Brussels po-faces will follow suit one day, and after a little more foot-shuffling ours will feel obliged to do likewise; whereupon a great many veteran and vintage cars will be put out of action quite unjustifiably. It is obviously proper for the Regulations to stipulate that every vehicle must have two independent braking systems, as provided in the 1896 Act, and it is equally right to stipulate that they must have a certain standard of efficiency, as required for the MOT test; but it should be no concern of any po-face anywhere how many wheels are braked or in what fashion, provided the required standard of braking efficiency is reached.

It is clear that the po-faces everywhere are becoming more active, and drawing up regulations about anti-pollution and safety measures is going to keep there happy for years. As far as exhaust emissions are concerned I believe it is right to legislate but the American po-faces who are setting the pace have been frightened into going too far in many respects merely because of the climatic peculiarities of a small part of California. Like docile sheep our po-faces will follow suit, and the owners of the few cars on the Isle of Mull will have to pay for all the extra equipment needed to cope with conditions in the Los Angeles basin.

Meanwhile, diesel lorries and buses continue to pour out clouds of dirty, oily, smelly smoke which the po-faces are seemingly happy to ignore. Unlike private motorists, haulage Contractors are well organised and represent a pressure group to which po-faces yield. So we are told that diesel fumes are less toxic than those from petrol engines; which may not be so as some medical people suspect they are carcinogenic. Toxic or no, they are undeniably offensive and may sometimes be-dangerous as they can obscure one’s view when trying to overtake. Well, yes, admit the po-faces, as they have been saying for twenty years, but we cannot frame regulations until suitable standards are laid down and suitable smoke meters are available for roadside tests. Really! Why not re-activate one of the better provisions of the 1896 Act, which simply said that no mechanical vehicle might “Show visible vapour” except from “some temporary or accidental cause”? Any old-time copper could see whether vapour was visible and act accordingly.

As for the various proposals floating about to make motor vehicles safer, they mostly seem ludicrous or unnecessary or both. Of course, with so many millions of cars and lorries about the authorities must lay down certain standards. of design and construction; but giving effect to many of the new proposals will not only be very expensive, it may also be self-defeating because the po-faces have not yet learnt that there is really no such thing as a dangerous car, there are only dangerous drivers. If you introduce too many devices to help the less-skilled drivers and to protect them front the results of their ineptitude, you insulate them from reality and reduce their skill still further.

I am certainly not advocating the construction and use of ‘bad’ cars, which can only be safely coaxed along by skilled specialists. We want the best possible road-holding and braking, adequate margins of strength, protection against corrosion of vital members (sadly lacking on some current designs), reasonable provisions to keep exhaust emissions clean and non-toxic, sensible arrangements of controls and all the rest of it. If the po-faces have their way, however, it looks as though the cars of the near future will be prohibitively expensive and so heavy that they can only be propelled, at rigidly controlled speeds, probably on pre-determined routes, by ‘de-toxed’ engines of such inefficiency that the consumption of ever-scarcer and dearer fuel will restrict their use to the senior po-faces themselves, as they will then be the best-paid members of the community. Not that the cost will matter to them, of course, as we will pay the bills. Nor will they ever know boy,’ nasty are the cars their activities have brought into being, as they will have chauffeurs. . . .

Thank goodness I am as old as I am, and remember the days when motoring was fun and you could actually play Colonel Bogey under the office windows of the po-faces Without having your licence endorsed.

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