Friday, May 26, 2006

A plea to slow drivers

Driving around the Welsh interior today, I was struck by the number of dawdling drivers, pootling along at 35 or 40 mph.

Now there are times when this is pant-browningly fast; times when speed is not even desirable, let alone necessary. Chucking out time at school, for instance, is a poor moment to decide the road past the playground is a worthy racetrack. In Australia, a country noted for its progressive attitude to traffic law enforcement, there is a 15 mph limit around schools at relevant times of the day. You should try driving at 15 miles an hour sometime. It's not easy.

But today, in deepest Carmarthenshire, once the rain had finished and the roads were mostly dry, it was a day for making swift progress; a day to press on. Even in an elderly Land Rover.

Except I was constantly stuck behind the 30 mile an hour brigade.

Caravan towers I can understand; even if I hate them all the same. These are not straight roads - no Romans ever made it far in Wales. Heavily laden trucks struggle with the hills and again I can accept that they have limitations. But why, oh why did you spend thirty-five thousand pounds on a Mercedes estate if you were only going to drive at half the posted speed limit? And if the road is so scary that you have to stand hard on the brakes when you see another car coming towards you, wouldn't it be better just to pack it all in and move to the city? You'll save a fortune on laundry. Trust me.

OK, so to be fair I was in a hurry this afternoon, having scooped up the final shit in the Brecon Beacons at a quarter to three and needing to get it to Aberystwyth by half past four. But even so, had the whole world been munching on Mogadon since lunchtime? Why were they so slow, and so in my way?

I try very hard to be fair and open-minded. You may find that hard to believe, but it's true. I can accept that for some people forty miles an hour is quite enough thankyou very much. It's a safe speed, really. Fast enough to get you to where you're going before the dawn of the next century, slow enough that you can watch the bluebells wither as you pass. These same people may well have nowhere much to go. Most of them seem elderly, and have probably been kicked out of the nursing home and told to find something useful to do with the day. Pottering around in the old jalopy maybe evokes pleasant memories of inter-war days spent bicycling down green and leafy lanes. And again, that's fine.

But please, just occasionally, have a look in your rearview mirror. If you can see another car behind you, assume it's not being driven by another crusty. Suspect that in fact it is being used by someone to get from where they were to where they need urgently to be in as little time as is legally and safely possible. That being the case, and you being at your leisure, please pull over at the nearest convenient point. Stop, have a look around. Maybe dig out the thermos and have a cup of tea. Enjoy the country air.

And let the rest of us get past!

Another thing, whilst I have your attention. Why is it that you drive along these country roads at forty miles an hour when fifty or even sixty would be perfectly safe, and then, when you reach a village where there are pedestrians, dogs, small children and other easily damaged things protected by a mandatory thirty mile an hour limit, do you carry on at forty as if nothing had changed?

And once you've been done for speeding, you have the nerve to write to the local paper complaining about the police wasting their time hounding innocent citizens when they could be better employed catching criminals. Well, if you could be trusted to respect the speed limit - in fact if you could be trusted to behave as if you had even the slightest comprehension of the responsibility that goes with being in charge of two tonnes of moving machinery - then maybe the police wouldn't have to keep an eye on you the whole time. Instead they could devote themselves to catching those who knowingly break the law, rather than those who are too stupid to understand it.

This has been a rantette. I will go away now.

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