November 4, 2015

I want to go quickly, says TV’s Jeremy Clarkson, and anyone who tries to stop me is an idiot.

Writing in his regular Funday Times column, Jay-Cee savagely derides the very idea of 40 mph speed limits. He complains that 40 is simply “a number” and that it had been “plucked from the sky” by “a fool who knows nothing” and put on some stupid roadside signs as part of some congenitally idiotic conspiracy to steal money from people who like to go quickly.

Clarko dismisses the idea that speed limits have anything to do with preventing people from getting killed or injured. “Why can’t the government admit it?” he asks, speed limits are just “a tax on people who want to go quickly”. Perhaps he could ask fellow Cotswoldian David Cameron about this next time they get together.

It’s not the money he objects to apparently, because he’s got loads. It’s the intellectual dishonesty of pretending speed limits are there to protect people from death or injury, when of course it’s all about money.

If the government would simply drop this absurd pretence, Mr C says, he would happily pay the fines so that – for example – he could get to the airport more quickly and not miss his flight. It would be a simple choice, he says: “do I pay the speed tax and catch it, or do 40mph and get the next one?”

Indeed a system that allows wealthier people to break the law whenever it suits them in return for a modest cash penalty has a lot to recommend it and could have applications well beyond the narrow sphere of driving speed restrictions.

Clarky claims the idea that driving over 40mph is safer than driving under 40mph is “absurd” and has “no science or sense to it at all”. He has no time for so-called scientists who pretend that driving less fast reduces the risk of death or injury to motorists or pedestrians – nor for those who argue that speeding fines deter speeding.

Reporting these comments this week, weekly publication The Week (which, sad to say, basically just regurgitates stuff proper journalists have written from scratch) suggests that not everyone agrees with Clarksy.

They quote a Which? survey which found that 65 per cent of people believe the threat of a getting a speeding ticket does “help deter people from going over the limit.” But those 65% are probably all just poor, and would quickly recognise the absurdity of their beliefs if they weren’t.

Clarksky rejects the whole idea of speed limits as a means of making roads safer. Speed cameras don’t reduce accident numbers at all, he argues, and “in fact, when they were switched off in Oxfordshire recently the number of casualties showed no noticeable increase.” And who in their right mind is going to worry about an increase than nobody notices!

“If you want total safety, make the speed limit 1 mph,” he proposes ironically. But if we want to be grown-up about this, we need to accept that “casualties are inevitable” and that individuals should be left to strike their own balance between the need for safety and the need for speed – without having the government interfering at every turn.

You cannot, after all, make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

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