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Roger Helmer MEP: Let's bash the motorist - again

Helmer_roger Roger Helmer is an MEP for the East Midlands and Chairman of The Freedom Association.

Two for the price of one - This week brought news of new health tests for drivers, and of proposals (from the "Commission for Integrated Transport" and the "Motorists' Forum", whoever they are) for "voluntary" Speed Limiters to be fitted to cars. I assume they will be "voluntary" in the same way that the introduction of Income Tax was said to be "temporary".

Who pays for this proliferation of pointless quangos, by the way? Oh yes, don't remind me. It's us. Yet I'm a motorist, and the Motorists' Forum has never asked for my advice, or whether I wanted them to represent my interests!

Of course some elderly motorists are dangerous, and already doctors and concerned younger relatives take steps to ensure that they stop driving. But one can see the way these proposed new tests will go. They will be compulsory. They will cost (we are told) up to £80. They will take no account of the fact that while older drivers may have slower reactions, they are also typically much more experienced and much more careful. Nor will they trade-off the balance of risk against the social utility of driving. For many older people, especially in rural areas, a driving ban is practically a death sentence. If I thought for a moment that the approach would be reasonable and proportionate, I might be more relaxed about it. But once more we feel the dead hand of State bureaucracy fingering our driving licences.

Then Speed Limiters, which will actually take over control of your car and brake as you pass the thirty sign. They claim that this will save "29% of injuries". Lies, lies, lies. The fact is that excessive speed is the primary cause of only around 13% of accidents. But of those, around half were actually within the speed limit at the time (there are plenty of occasions on the road when even a speed within the limit can be dangerous in the particular circumstances). So the percentage of accidents saved cannot exceed single figures. Meantime they wholly fail to take into account the additional accidents which will be caused (as several road safety organisations have pointed out) by sudden unexpected braking, by the driver losing control of the vehicle, or indeed by the sheer mind-numbing tedium of having a black box do half the driving for you. On balance, I see no safety bonus at all.

But of course the Zeitgeist requires us also to consider the effect on Global Warming. These speed limiters will save petrol, and save the planet! Again, lies, lies lies (even if you accept climate alarmism, which is a whole 'nother question). The advocates of speed limits confuse laboratory conditions with the real world. Yes it is true that other things being equal (as they so rarely are) a car travelling at a steady 70 mph will use less fuel that the same car at 80 mph. It is also true that in my car, I find that if I do a lot of motorway driving and return an average speed of (say) 55 mph, I get fuel consumption of over 40 mpg, whereas if I do a lot of town and local driving and return an average speed of (say) 30 mph, I may get less than 30 mpg. It is congestion and bad roads that waste petrol, not speed.

As usual, the do-gooders are aiming at the wrong target. Just as the drink-drive laws penalise the responsible driver who had a glass of wine with his supper, but leave untouched the alcoholics, the lager-louts and the joy-riders, so this measure will inconvenience the responsible majority, while the irresponsible minority will press the over-ride button. These are just two more examples of the way in which the State seeks to control the life of the individual in ever more detail. It's about time to say we've had enough.


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