“Is your boss an idiot?”

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They’re waiting!

Paul Oakden, who runs my UK Office in Market Harborough, recently received a call (I don’t think he got the name of the caller) whose opening gambit was “Is your boss an idiot?”.  I understand that Paul’s immediate response was that he hadn’t quite worked that out yet.

The reason for the call, and the question, it turned out, was a Tweet I’d caused to be posted earlier in the day, which read “The RAC says that speed cameras save a few lives. (And they make the lives of millions of motorists miserable)”.

Now I admit that this Tweet (like so many of my Tweets) was flippant.  I apologise to anyone who has suffered or perhaps lost a loved one in a road accident, who may have found the tone regrettable.  But also like many of my Tweets, there was a serious point here.

The first point to make is that the RAC’s conclusion is strongly disputed.  The Alliance of British Drivers had a distinguished academic look at the same data that the RAC used, and came to the opposite conclusion. There is also a widely-publicised case that speed cameras increase accidents and fatalities. For any fair-minded person, the jury is still out

But there’s another point to bear in mind.  Any politician can get cheers of approval by saying that you can’t put a price on human life, and that any action, no matter how expensive or disruptive, is worth it if it saves a life.  But a moment’s consideration shows that this is not so.

Take health.  Within limited budgets, there is only so much one can do.  If we have only say £10,000 to spend, is it better to spend it on treatment that will extend a pensioner’s life for a few months?  Or on a life-saving operation on a teenager?  Speaking as a pensioner, I have no doubt that the right thing to do is to spend the money on the teenager.

Or road safety: If you have a sum of money which would pay for (say) an extra five miles of motorway, or an extra 200 miles of crash barriers, which do you go for?  Both will save lives.  I’d say it’s legitimate to choose whichever saves more lives for the money.

On speed limits, there is clearly a trade-off between safety on the on one hand, and speed and convenience on the other.  Indeed when the government was arguing for an 80 mph limit on motorways (they seem to have forgotten that plan), I believe it cited the economic benefits of faster travel.  Improved economic performance is associated inter alia with better diet, longer life expectancy and resilience to natural disasters, so more road safety (if speed limits impact negatively on economic performance) could mean other damaging consequences elsewhere.

If, as my caller seemed to imply, harsh imposition of speed limits (and presumably lower limits) were always worth it to save lives, then why not a universal 30 mph speed limit?  Or twenty?  Or bring back the Red Flag Act and have a man walking in front of every motorised vehicle, and a maximum speed of 4 mph.  There has to be a balance between safety and realistic mobility.  So it is legitimate to take the view that speed limits, for the most part and generally, are now too low, and that pressure from groups like BRAKE to lower them further will be damaging.

It is certainly the case that modern cars are hugely safer than those available when (say) the M1 was opened and the 70 limit introduced.  I have been roundly castigated for admitting that I occasionally stray over the speed limit on the motorway — yet I am constantly overtaken by a stream of vehicles going faster than me.

Meantime the penalties associated with speed violations and speed cameras are (I would argue) disproportionate.  Loss of a driving licence when points tot up is a massive penalty.  For those who live in rural areas, it is practically house arrest.  It is a severe curtailment of liberty.  And it may be imposed on someone who has done his best to comply, but has three times in three years been caught inadvertently a few mph over the limit.  Since so many people are over the limit so much of the time, enforcement is, in a sense, random.  Every day when you check the post, there could well be a ticket and three points in it, which is why I say that speed cameras make life a misery.

There are too many do-gooders keen to parade their compassionate concern for human life, and oblivious to the collateral damage.  We need to get a more reasonable balance for speed limits, for enforcement and penalties.

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18 Responses to “Is your boss an idiot?”

  1. Me_Again says:

    Out beyond the national speed limit signs it should be an advisory limit.
    Inside those, with increasing frequency, folk ignore 30 because 35 is only just above isn’t it?
    Some ignore 35 because what do a few mph do really matter?

    One thing that really does need a serious look at are the types of speedometers in vehicles. Now I know petrol heads like to have the needles race around the dial but these things were designed in the 1930’s, haven’t we got further than that?

    Well yes we have. There are a number of vehicles which use a digital read out on its own or as an adjunct to a retro wizzy needle thing.

    Here’s the thing. When driving over 60 or 70, the position of the needle just above or below the line isn’t really important is it -except maybe if a copper is behind you. If you hit a pedestrian at any of those speeds they’re history.

    But when we get down to 30mph those few ‘ticks’ above the mark actually are ticking up the difference between badly injured and death. Your brain does not need to translate a number, it knows what that is already. So is there a difference between the retro wizzy needle thing and a digital read out in safety terms? I really think there is. When you are in a built up area you really want to spend as little time as possible flicking your eyes down to see what speed you are going. if you have a retro wizzy needle thing your brain has to calculate where the 30mph line is [have you ever noticed that most speedos have a big 20 and 40 but a small 30? How stupid is that for UK driving?

    Anyway, you look down and firstly calculate where 30 is. The next thought is ‘Is the needle above the line or below the line?’. Then the next thought is ‘Now it’s just above that’ll be about maybe 33 -that’s ok’.

    These thoughts occupy time, they occupy it unnecessarily. 33 doesn’t need translating.

    So I would want all manufacturers of cars to put a digital read out on their panel. Hell most of the stuff apart from revs and speed are just window dressing. A nice big number in the middle of the retro wizzy needle thing means you can’t NOT know when you are exceeding the speed limit. I would want any speed cameras in built up areas because you see some real dickheads driving at ridiculous speeds in 30mph areas -they plainly know better how people are affected when rammed by a car.

    Secondly, traffic lights. Is it me or has the incidence of idiots going through on red increased? You used only rarely to see it -the end vehicle passing through as amber goes to red instead of pulling up. Now if you sit through 2-3 changes of lights you can see which ones are plainly going through on red. Push bikes too, they don’t think traffic lights apply to them!

  2. Chris says:

    Radar detectors are popular in the USA for a reason.

  3. PJ says:

    As David Camoron is in charge of this country then yes, my boss is an idiot!

  4. Anne says:

    As an older driver, when the Labour Government mooted that older drivers should retake their tests, I decided I would challenge through the Courts re age discrimination. As quite a long term driver I thought I had better retake the driving test yet again, yet I got a shock regarding the costs involved, but my Daughter in law suggested I should try the IAM (Institution of Advanced Drivers). I joined, and yes, I realised just how important it is to “get up to date”, and thank goodness I had a very patient “Observer” and when, and only when, he thought I was ready-he put me in for their IAM test. I still attend their local meetings and can recomend their alternative way of keeping up to date and not only do I keep up to date, I actually enjoy driving far more than I ever did before.

  5. Richard111 says:

    Given the extent of computerisation in the modern car I wonder how long it will take before the computer is connected to its own mobile phone which will be updated continuously on the local speed limit and will inform the authorities if said speed limit is exceeded for some specified time. All details of the vehicle will of course be passed along with the record of the transgression.

    • Ray Veysey (@rayveysey) says:

      This is already a reality, GPS technology transmitted from your car can update the big computer in the sky to where you are, and what you are doing at all times. How long before it will fitted to all cars? The Insurance companies are already big advocates of it.

    • Me_Again says:

      I’m just looking at safety, not big brother. that is a different battle.

  6. Mike Stallard says:

    The key to safe and effective driving is consideration for the other road user, experience, good manners and being able to see what is likely to happen next.
    Speed is only a small part of all this, isn’t it.
    Driving at 60 mp.h. through our suburb is bad manners and very dangerous. Driving at 80 on the motorway is quite normal near London. Overtaking at 60 m.p.h. on an empty road where you can see a long way ahead is safe.
    If we make too many laws it will make people drive up to the limit and over it if possible. What we want to encourage is decent considerate driving. the comments above support this view, actually.

  7. Me_Again says:

    “The key to safe and effective driving is consideration for the other road user, experience, good manners and being able to see what is likely to happen next.”

    I don’t disagree with the that BUT in the absence of the above, safety features are even more important. Using your paradigm we wouldn’t need brakes or indicators either and certainly not ABS and the other stuff because you’ve predicted everything in a considerate manner. Why bother with a horn either since nothing will take you by surprise?

    Having the 30 in large print on the speedo would be a starter. Having a digital read out that ‘glance flicking’ can assimilate without translation is another.

    • I doubt if simply changing the speedo display will make a lot of difference (and I personally take the view that that with speedos as with wristwatches, “old-fashioned” analogue displays are clearer and quicker to read). The more interesting question is about the causes of road accidents. There is a lot of evidence that speed in excess of the limit is a marginal factor. More important are driving experience, skill, drink/drugs, carelessness, road condition/maintenance, weather conditions, the state of the vehicle.

      • Me_Again says:

        Well i suppose you are entitled to an opinion Roger, but I heartily disagree on almost all points.
        How the hell can an analogue display -which by definition does not show numbers- be clearer than a chuffing number? Nonsense man Ask anyone who knows anything about brain function and you will find you are most certainly wrong.

        Now when you drive a vehicle that has a digital display you are conscious of your speed. You KNOW when you are speeding, no if and buts, you know with certainty. Even better was the head up display on my last car, so easy so clear, no guessing or fudging.

        I am not talking about the causes of road accidents just their results. The result of impacts on the human frame at various speeds have been well documented over the years. With many cars showing 20 & 40 as large numbers even analogue displays are avoiding the big ’30’.

        The survival rate from impact diminishes with exponential precision as the speed increases.
        therefore any mechanism which impedes a driver’s ability to accurately gauge their speed and therefore their stopping distance should not be allowed to be the primary source of speed information.

  8. Francis says:

    I have been driving for over 45 years. During that time speed limits have rarely been reviewed and yet the built in safety of the vehicles has changed beyond any recognition. It does seem we are overdue a rethink on speed limits.

    Speed cameras, speed humps, traffic calming, etc are only in place because we have a serious lack of policemen out there to enforce the rules. And if some of the measures can earn the Exchequer some easy money while saving on policing costs too, it will never be changed by those in power today.

    One respondent mentioned jumping red lights. This happens far more now than ever before. It is those turning right that are the worst offenders. I often see (and expect) the three last vehicles making the right turn to jump the lights. Those crossing on the green do seen to allow this practise as it is rare that anyone sounds their horn. In fact if you do not make the very late right turn on red you are likely to get a toot from behind! The danger of course is when there is pedestrian controlled crossings as even more vehicles run the red then. Thus putting the pedestrians at risk.

    Finally is is just me or has anyone else noticed that young drivers rarely use their indicators? We expect this from white van man but now we have a new group of inconsiderate drivers to contend with.

  9. Hi, Me Again! I remember Sir Clive Sinclair rasing this point regarding analogue and digital watches. He pointed out that you read the time on an analogue clock with just two pieces of data — the angles of the two hands. Whereas on an analogue display you have up to 28. I must say I find “ten to seven” a lot easier to grasp that “Eighteen fifty”.

    • Me_Again says:

      Somewhat different application, we are not telling time. The angles of the two hands idea within a 30 MPH zone would not be accurate enough -for one point.
      The second point is that a number needs no translation work at all.
      Your brain asks ‘What speed am I going?’
      A superfast blink of a look at the digital display tells you exactly what you need to know and there is no calculation process at all.
      With a retro wizzy needle thingy it goes like this.
      Your brain asks ‘What speed am I going?’
      A superfast blink of a look at an analogue display tells you just which segment of the speedo your needle is in. Not good enough for in town.
      A second look is needed to narrow it down or a longer initial look.
      It tells you ‘The needle is near thirty’ -I say near because on most cars the 30 is not marked as a number just a ‘tick’ mark [that’s criminal anyway].
      Your brain has to calculate -if you can be bothered- whether you are above or below the speed limit.
      The time difference for an accurate speed reading is quite large when measured in feet of travel and time that the eye is not on the road itself.
      Consider driving down a street with a row of parked cars on each side. In one scenario the blink look is quick enough to not put at risk a pedestrian stepping from behind a parked car, you stop a foot away from them. But traveling at the same speed the longer look needle method would result in an impact. The alternate scenario to both is needle thingy driving too fast anyway, doesn’t look down and hits pedestrian.

  10. borderside says:

    A digital 30mph ( or other digital speed ) would be of no use to me driving down the A9 in France ! My old needle speedo is in Mph and Kmh ~ would I require 2 digi readouts on my dashboard ?

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