The speeding driver feels timeless and almost immortal, but those dreaded yellow boxes save 80 lives a year in England
Not even sexual desire makes people as irrational as the joy of going fast. And there’s much less hypocrisy about speed. There are people who will talk about the spiritual benefits of celibacy or the moral ones of monogamy but no one gives homilies in favour of driving at 20 miles an hour – unless they are children on bicycles, for whom this is a giddying velocity.
There is a pleasure to going fast which is quite distinct from the competitive pleasure of being fastest. Otherwise no one would speed on an empty road, yet almost everyone does. The only society in which I have lived where more or less everyone obeyed the speed limits, even without surveillance and enforcement, was Sweden in the late 70s. But that was also the most conformist and repressed in all kinds of ways except, perhaps, sexual ones.
Even Swedes now speed wherever they think they won’t be caught. Germans, another fairly regimented society, have dealt with the problem by abolishing speed limits altogether on the autobahn, and the subject now forms an untouchable third rail in German politics. No matter how much they recycle, and despite their genuine belief in the danger of carbon emissions, almost all Germans seem to believe that carbon burned in cars on the autobahn doesn’t go into the atmosphere at all, but is sublimated straight to heaven, the same place of which drivers are given a foretaste if they reach 140mph.
Yet even in paradise, there is a worm, a serpent, a loathly thing – in fact a speed camera. When they first started to appear in England I resolved to drive as fast as possible where I safely could, because it seemed obvious that before long they would be deployed to stamp out all speeding. I have since reviewed this policy, but at the same time speed cameras have not spread as I believed they would.
Anyone who is now caught speeding in England (and, yes, it has happened to me) really deserves their fine, since they were not only breaking the speed limit but driving without enough care and attention to notice a bloody great box in a fortification by the side of the road. I don’t know of any other law, except, perhaps, those governing corporate taxes, that is enforced with such solicitude for the interests of the potential criminal.
All this is, of course, the result of the profound belief among motorists that anything that feels so good can’t possibly be wrong. If speed cameras were really deployed to catch people breaking the speed limit anywhere, rather than those speeding where the habit has caused serious accidents, they would be everywhere, and their fines would have paid off the budget deficit – if the government hadn’t been toppled by angry mobs and its members hanged from the hated instruments of tyranny.
To see this mentality at its very purest, consider the reactions to this morning’s report showing that speed cameras probably save about 80 lives a year, and have reduced the number of serious incidents in their vicinity by more than 25%. The Guardian, whose readers are all of course entirely virtuous, leads on this fact.
The Daily Mail, more in touch with the crude lusts of its followers, gets through three-quarters of the story without mentioning the reduction in death and accidents. Instead, it obsesses about the 27 cameras (out of a sample of nearly 600) where it appears that accidents have actually gone up a little since their installation. In the comments underneath one note is struck again and again: speed cameras are dangerous because they make people slow down. All accidents are caused by people braking suddenly to get back within the speed limit. Thus, the cause of accidents is not speed, but speed limits.
The speeding driver feels for a moment timeless and almost immortal. Anything that drags him back to earthly responsibilities is an outrage. But no speed on earth will ever be quite fast enough when what we’re really trying to accelerate towards is our escape velocity.
There are no comments yet. Why not be the first to speak your mind.