Sunday, 25 September 2011

The State And Its Back Seat Driver

I can see I'm going to be referring to this work of art at Counting Cats for quite some time to come.

Here, for example, is a perfect illustration of the scenario painted so vividly by IanB.

Motorway speed limits could be raised to 80mph to shorten journey times and boost the economy, it is reported.
Fantastic! Before the full story emerges, that is.

The current 70mph restriction is rarely enforced, police often turning a blind eye to anyone driving at up to 10mph faster than the limit.

Experts have argued that by having a higher speed limit that is enforced more readily, drivers are more likely to have respect for the rules.
See what they did there? They'll change the rules for us (ain't they kind?), but only if we have respect for their arbitrary - and now very much out-of-date - limits. This, in technical parlance, is known as giving with one hand while inflicting buggery by way of sandpaper glove with the other.

Let's look at the history here. Motorways were designed when the average family saloon suffered from speed rattle once you hit a mile a minute. However, engineers - as they have always been wont to do - built in a margin and designed them for safe travel at 90mph (can't find a link but, trust me, it's my job). And this was back when cars were heavier; not regulated to hysterical standards as they are now; didn't have ABS, power steering, crumple zones, etc etc; when there were no seat belt laws; when drink drive limits were not yet set; when crash barriers were mostly non-existent, let alone computer crash-tested; and when the driving test could be passed after an hour or two of shite tuition in a Morris Minor with Uncle Freddie.

The 70mph limit is as irrelevant to the 21st Century as The Bay City Rollers. As illustrated by its origin.

Q: When was the 70 mph motorway speed limit introduced in Britain?

A: The 70 mph National Speed Limit was introduced as a temporary measure in December 1965. It is often blamed on Barbara Castle, but at the time the Minister of Transport was Tom Fraser.

The reason given was a spate of serious accidents in foggy conditions, but it is often claimed that the MoT had been alarmed by AC Cars testing their latest Cobra on the M1 at speeds up to 180 mph.

It was confirmed as a permanent limit in 1967, by which time Barbara Castle (a non-driver) had become Minister of Transport.There was surprisingly little debate at the time: the fact that the average family car of the time could only just exceed 70 mph perhaps had something to do with this.
This was a rule originally set to tackle either a phenomenon which is much more unlikely now or, as some believe a rare anomaly, but was done in true political fashion to affect just about no-one too unduly.

This has now been turned into a golden rule which will lead to instant death if it is reviewed. So, yet again, the state approach is to assuage those who would give them grief over it. But unlike in the past, it's not us voters who governments are afraid of, it's the 'campaigners' (aka the righteous). Let's quote IanB.

Just as by the 1970s a government couldn’t make any decision without asking the Unions for permission, now no government can make a decision without consulting The Campaigners. And just as nearly everyone accepted the situation as normal back then, so it is that most everyone treats the situation now as normal too.
The Campaigners in question here are no doubt 'experts' like Brake or RoadPeace. And everyone does indeed think this is normal.

The public would now prefer to abrogate their right to have government listening to them, by allowing unelected - and often publicly-funded - quangoes and fake charities to do the dictating instead.

So we have a situation where even if our parliament comes out with a rare good idea - such as raising the speed limit to a realistic level, commensurate with modern living rather than rent-seeking fantasy - they are obliged to temper it with some hideous big boot to get it past the professionally aggrieved.

If this long overdue re-casting of the motorway speed limit is eventually enacted, you can bet your Nat West piggies it will be accompanied by more fines on non-compliance, and a whole raft of initiatives to bring city driving down to a maximum of 20mph.

If not, the nagging, vilification and shrill squealing by special interests whose livelihoods rely on slicing your freedoms up bit by bit, would become unbearable.

This is how government works in the Britain of 2011. They'll give us more rope, but will hang us high with it to avoid suffering the inevitable incessant whinging that would result otherwise.


Pavlov's Cat said...

As another blog pointed out.

This is merely an EU harmonisation scheme in disguise it's funny how 80 MPH is approx 128 KPH not far off the Maximum speed of 130 KPH that all our chums across La Manche enjoy.

So The Cleggeron can say 'Look what we've done for you, aren't we great'

When in fact the mandate came from Brussels, they would have had to do it eventually anyway

Curmudgeon said...

I'd be amazed if this actually happens - in fact I was surprised to see the idea revived.

To be honest, given the relatively light-touch enforcement currently practised, the motorway speed limit is one of the least irksome.

Far worse are all the ludicrous and totally unjustified reductions on all-purpose roads, especially the way that some authorities like Derbyshire seem to have decided that 50 mph, not 60 mph, should be the default limit for rural main roads.

Looking at the funding of BRAKE and RoadPiss is very instructive. A lot of transport companies fund BRAKE as a kind of Danegeld.

Xopher said...

If we shorten door to door journey times with no extra Government expenditure should we cancel the high speed rail project that saves a few minutes from city centre to city centre?

Curmudgeon said...

Yes, exactly the point I made on a forum where someone was whingeing about the possible rise in emissions.

"If increasing the motorway speed limit did result in a significant rise in emissions, then it would be a sign it was producing meaningful time savings, which would benefit the economy overall. See, all the benefits of HS2 and more, without spending a penny of public money."

Funny how so many HS2 supporters are against this idea, really...

WV = "oozin" ;-)

Dick Puddlecote said...

Pavlov: Sadly, I'm not surprised. My business (which was started on a shoestring in the mid-90s) is transport and I am required to be qualified to run it by the EU. They know better how to run a transport business, apparently, than someone who built it up from scratch. In exams, I had to quote legislation, 90% of which were EU directives. If I didn't pass, the UK transport commissioner would shut us down.

How silly of me to think that this was a good idea from UK government alone (even if hampered by fake charities). They wouldn't know one if they saw it. ;)

Anonymous said...

Wot Pavlov's Cat said....

I'll bet the MoT introduce a Dry/Wet conditions speed limit as in frogland. 13okm/h when it's nice and sunny on the autoroute, and 110 km/h when it's raining.

Guess we won't be doing 130km/h very often.

Anonymous said...

Pavlov's Cat is correct in identifying this as yet another stealth act of EU harmonisation.

Next one in the motoring space is the proposal to change the MOT Test frequency.

Next up is the reduction in the drink-drive alcohol limit from 80 to 50 - another EU standard (except theirs doesn't come with an automatic 12-month ban - ours will).

The lobbies can huff and puff as much as they like, Cast-Iron Dave has had his orders from the unelected Pres Herman Von Rumpy and it will be done.

Unless we get that referendum first....

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

My excuse, Arabic keyoard full of sand and overamitous typing


nisakiman said...

It rather puts me in mind of the situation in Aus when I was driving trucks there in the 70s. The speed limit set for trucks then was (I may be getting these mixed up - it was 40 years ago) 40 mph in Victoria, 50 mph in NSW and I think maybe even less than 40 mph in SA. These limits were, of course, set years before when trucks boasted maybe 120 bhp or less and had vacuum brakes. However, the authorities zealously enforced these limits in the 70s, despite the fact that we were driving state-of-the-art, over-engineered American trucks (I drove a Kenworth, a superb piece of truck technology that at 50 mph still had several more gears to shift up) that were safe at high speed, were staggeringly stable, and with a 6x4 tractor unit and tri-axle trailer (all with air brakes) had massive braking power.

I've often wondered if the PTB there ever caught up with the times (and economic reality) and changed these limits, or if they still stand; a testament to the ultimate stupidity of the political estate and the nannies amongst them.

As already mentioned, the only way the motorway limit will ever be raised is because of EU "harmonisation", not because our politicians have had a rare outbreak of common sense.

Curmudgeon said...

We still have a 40 mph limit for HGVs on single-carriageway roads, which on roads like the A9 between Perth and Inverness, or the A17 between Newark and King's Lynn, is utterly bonkers.

Ian Thorpe said...

I have been know to drive at under 70 but only when accekerating of decellerating or in heavy traffic. Are you telling me Dick it is not the legal MINIMUM on motorways>

Curmudgeon said...

And here's some more evidence for your supposition

General Pyston Broak said...

It wouldn't surprise me if it's a money generating plan. More fuel burnt at 80 mph, more fuel duty raised.