Jeremy on: international driving standards
There seems to be a great deal of debate at present about immigrants. Some say that if we don't welcome new arrivals from abroad, the fruit will remain unpicked this summer and a pot of raspberry jam will shoot up to £7,000. Others say that the National Health Service is already bursting at the seams and simply can't deal with even one more new boy.
The argument seems split, and both sides seem to have a point. Business says British people are now too busy watching Cash in the Attic on their state-sponsored plasma televisions to turn up for interviews, and that low income workers from Romania are essential. Schools say that while this may be so, the classrooms are already too full.
It all seems to be based on the economy. We need new workers to help Britain thrive. Or we can't afford new workers in case they don't get jobs and end up on benefits. I'm sure these are jolly important issues. But nobody seems to be addressing the issue that matters most of all.
What will happen to the standard of driving if we turn our borders into a free-for-all? At present, and I've already said this on television, Britain is home to the best driving in the world. Don't listen to the road-safety ‘charities' or the speed-camera enthusiasts. Take it from someone who's driven in more countries than pretty well anyone else: we are brilliant.
Of course, there are exceptions and, at weekends when the Peugeot-driving bridge-set head for the DIY superstore, things can be a bit wonky, but, for the most part, we understand lane discipline, we understand the importance of not going into a yellow box, we make allowances for cyclists and we don't routinely drive in bus lanes. Well I do. But that's for personal, political reasons.
It is emphatically not like this anywhere else. The French are belligerent, the Americans are hopeless, the Italians are mad, the Germans drive far too close to the car in front, the Australians are drunk, the Scandinavians crash constantly and the rest of the world hasn't got the hang of it at all. Not even slightly. Not even a tiny bit.
Let me give you a recent example from Romania, a country that seems to be dominating the immigration debate at the moment. James May was lost, as usual, and threading his Lamborghini carefully, as usual, along a dusty track in the north of the country. From way off we could see a local approaching, and he must have been able to see the Lamborghini. But for reasons known only to himself, he chose to drive into it. Perhaps he had no idea what the middle pedal in his car was for. Who knows? But, one day, it's possible he will bring this driving style to a town or a village near you.
Then, there's India. I once interviewed a very well-to-do chap who said he once drove 300 kilometres cross country in a car that had no brakes at all. He said he had prayed to his God before setting off and accepted that if he had a head-on accident and was killed, "It was my day to die." And what of the chap coming the other way? "Well," he reasoned. "It was his day to die as well." It's a logical argument I suppose, but is in no way a realistic replacement for the MOT test.
Then we have the chap I encountered in another part of India. He was driving a truck that plainly had a faulty radiator. So he had one of his sons sitting on the bonnet pouring water into the top, and another son fastened to the front bumper, catching it as it poured out of the bottom, and then passing it back up to his brother. It was working, no doubt about that. But would it work on the M4, I wonder?
Let's move, now, to Uganda. You arrive at a dual carriageway and you want to turn right. But you can't. You have to turn left and drive for several miles in the wrong direction, until you reach a roundabout. That's a waste of time and a waste of fuel. So what you do is simply turn right anyway, and drive against the flow of traffic. That's deemed acceptable there. Everyone does it. Which means Ugandans will do it when they get here too.
In Bolivia, I drove a Range Rover that had no lights, no silencer, no wipers, broken power steering and suspension that had been jacked up in a shed the night before, past a policeman. He nodded approvingly.
Over the border in Chile, I was stopped immediately. "You can't drive that here," said the officer. He was most insistent right up to the point when he discovered I was British. "Mrs Thatcher!!!" he exclaimed before saluting and waving me on.
In Vietnam, they have traffic lights which count down to the moment they change. This is brilliant. It lets pedestrians know how long they have to cross the road. Except that nobody pays the slightest bit of attention. Traffic lights in the 'Nam are simply decorative items. Tinsel.
In Egypt, you drive without lights at night because it wears out the battery. In Jordan, you race every other car on the road. And then we get to California. You are in the middle lane of an interstate and signs are saying your turn-off is a mile away. So, you indicate to let the chap on your inside know you need to move over. He doesn't notice. Or he does, but chooses to do nothing about it.
So you start to ease over a bit and he doesn't respond to that either. When the turn-off is inches away, you are forced to act and he responds as though you've goosed his wife and assaulted his dog. He goes mental. This is because when an American is in a car, nothing at all happens outside. That's why, in LA, you can buy laptop cradles which attach to the steering wheel.
But, for me, Rwanda takes the biscuit. In some kind of oil deal, the Chinese have built a spectacularly good new road which cuts the country clean in half. The asphalt is smooth, there are crisp white lines and even large viewing areas where drivers can pull over to admire the remarkable scenery. Lovely. Except it's used by farmers, mostly, as a place where they can dry their crops.
So. Let's just say the Department for Transport does build a new road to take the pressure off the M6. It's opened in 2019 and, immediately, all of the people who've moved here from Rwanda start using it as a giant radiator.
That's why I have a suggestion. There's talk at the moment of introducing some kind of citizenship test to make sure the new arrivals have some inkling of what life is like in Britain and how they should behave. Hmmm. I wonder. Would it not be better to pop them behind the wheel of a Vauxhall Astra and ask them to drive round a roundabout?
Because, let's be honest, if a few of them defraud the DWP out of a plasma television, that's not really the end of the world. But if they end up going north on the southbound carriageway of the M1, with their kids on the bonnet drip-feeding the engine with water: that sort of is.