Another fine mess…
The more I have considered this month’s theme, the more I have realised that it is far too wide ranging. Compromise is everywhere in our lives, or at least in mine. I could write about any topic and, in very little time, the subject of compromise will come up.
Last week I sent off my driving licence for my first ever speeding endorsement. After 48 years. Damn, it could almost have been a full half-century. Still that’s impressive, no? Actually, no it isn’t. The circumstances of the fine are irritating, but I can’t complain. To have lasted this long says a fair amount about my vigilance, a bit more about our policing, and a lot about my good luck.
As it happened I was driving our company van along a dual carriageway in Gloucestershire. Ahead I saw a van in a layby easily identifiable as a mobile speed unit. I checked my speedo at 70 mph and drove on only to shout ‘Shit!’ to myself as I drew level. Because, as you may know, though surprisingly many people don’t, the UK speed limit for commercial vans on dual carriageways (though not motorways) is 60mph. My mistake was that, for an instant, I was thinking about driving my motorhome, also a large Fiat van type vehicle, but one that through the vagaries of illogical legislation, is subject to car speed limits. Of course the astute reader will have noted that, except for a lapse of vehicle type, I was fully aware that I was breaking a speed limit so, of course, I fully deserved my fine and endorsement. And I deserved it all the more because, after a driving lifetime of a cavalier attitude to speed limits, it was so very, very overdue.
This will only be the second time that I’ve had any endorsement points on my licence. In 1981 a rather bristly policeman did me for a pedestrian crossing offence under circumstances that were marginal, to say the very least. I did take exception to being stitched up like that since, unlike speeding, I have always been very scrupulous about such things. And, for the first few months after passing my driving test I scrupulously obeyed speed limits whilst, at the same time, trying to find out how tight a corner I could go round whilst exactly maintaining the actual limit. But rather quickly, those scruples eroded. Though in all other aspects of my life, I’ve always been pretty law-abiding, sometimes pompously so, even when I’ve known no-one was watching. Quite why I don’t know. Am I hoping that one day I might stand for public office, so want an unblemished record? Obviously not, since mendacity on as many levels as possible seems to be a prime qualification for the highest level of appointment these days.
But I think there are few people who won’t admit that, in at least some aspect of their life, they don’t put their own interpretation as to what is right above society’s. For some people they don’t feel the need to have a TV licence, for some they don’t feel the need to pay taxes, for some they don’t feel the need to return that £20 note the woman in front dropped, for some they don’t feel the need not to murder people. In varying levels I find all these attitudes totally unacceptable. Yet I speed.
But how much I speed is where the compromise comes in. Somewhere my mind makes a calculation. It factors in the actual limit, then allows factors (negative as well as positive) for a raft of parameters from my own assessment of my skill to the weather. I appreciate this sounds arrogant, though I don’t think I am particularly arrogant. Of course my compromise isn’t your compromise. I might be doing a ‘sensible’ 80 mph on the motorway, yet object strongly to your ‘well-judged-under-the-conditions’ 95 mph – or vice-versa.
The problem with speeding is that it is a calibrated offence. And the calibration varies from country to country. So if I’m not a dangerous speeder at 80 mph in sensible Germany, or even in righteous France, why should I be one in the UK? But if I steal something in any of those countries, however small, though the punishment might vary, I’m always a thief. And for the sake of any of you libertarians out there, I will temporarily argue the point that, unlike theft and murder, when you are fined for speeding, you have done actually done harm to no-one. And the conclusion that follows on from that, which is that we should be allowed to drive at whatever speed we feel is right, whilst knowing that we will suffer a draconian sentence should our speed actually cause death or injury (yes, I have seen it proposed) sounds eminently sensible – but only after a few glasses of wine.
Yet the oddest thing about speeding is that the law-abiding drivers stand out. Hardly anyone in London drives at a solid 30 (or 20) mph and I have to check myself when I come across such a ‘dawdler’ and remind myself that, although I might be in the majority, they are the justly righteous ones.
But this is already a missive from the past. Most of my rambling, my suppressed existentialist longing to speed as I please, will soon seem archaic. And probably sooner than we think. The talk is of autonomous cars, which might come sooner, or might well take longer than projected to dominate our roads. But the spin-offs from this can be implemented very soon, with our locations and speeds logged and transgressions either reported, or just neutralised by a suddenly unresponsive engine. In fact a system such as Ford’s Intelligent Speed Limiter can do most of this already, should the driver desire. Such technology is straightforward and, if rolled out in every new car, would be cheap. So the next step will be, why make it optional?
And, although I’ve had a good run, how can I object to this?