Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: speeding

Of course, we all know in our heart of hearts that the vast majority of radar detectors don't work. Some will beep when you are approaching a speed camera but they'll also beep when they hear civilian air traffic, remote central locking plippers and gamma radiation signals from the outer moons of Jupiter.

Others remain resolutely silent when you are near a speed trap but are very good at opening supermarket doors, and changing the channel on your neighbour's television.

In an attempt to demonstrate that its detector is a cut above the rest, Snooper is currently using a quote in its commercials from British Touring Car Champion, Jason Plato. He says he drives on the very limit but only on the track. “Good driving on public roads isn't about getting there fast,'' he argues, “it's about getting there safely''. Which is why, apparently, he uses Snooper on every journey.

This brings me to the thrust of this month's column. You see, the real reason we are attracted to radar detectors has absolutely nothing to do with safety. It's because, theoretically, they allow us to drive at one million mph through a village, safe in the knowledge that Plod isn't hiding round the next corner in his Fiat van.

The trouble is that Plato couldn't actually say this in a commercial. He couldn't say that he likes to use Snooper on every journey because he likes to hang the tail of his 911 out as he drives through the countryside.

Go on. Try to imagine how much shit would hit the fan if Plato popped up in an ad, saying he likes blowing Beemers into the weeds when he's out and about, and that's why I need Snooper. “To make sure I don't get caught”.

He'd wake up to find a SWAT team in his bedroom. Prosecutions would come from the ASA, the UN, the EU, the RSPCA, the WHO and providing they weren't all cooped up in the back of their Fiat vans at the time, maybe even the police themselves.

The trouble is that the glamourisation of speed is exactly what you can read, every week, and every month in every single road test report, in every single car magazine. We motoring journalists are regularly photographed doing power slides on mountain roads, and we wax lyrical in our prose about how the TVR will just edge away from the Ferrari and Lambo in third. It's all very exciting. It's what the readers of car magazines expect and demand, for us to live your dreams. But never does a week go by when someone doesn't write to me saying their toddler was mown down by a maniac in a Subaru and it's all my fault.

Speed means we can leave work later and get home sooner so it makes us richer, and families more stable 

I got one such missive only yesterday from some poor chap who's teenage, petrolhead son had ‘taken' the family Mercedes for a spin and killed himself in it. He enclosed a photograph of the wreckage, to hammer the point home. I've love at this point to say that I simply toss these letters in the bin and scoff. I'd love, even more, to say I write back saying that in a society where ordinary members of the public are allowed to drive around at 70mph in two ton chunks of metal, a little light death and bruising is inevitable. And I'd like to sign off by saying that actually, Britain has the lowest death rate on the roads in Europe, so it's hardly my fault that little Johnnie got wasted.

But in fact, whenever I get one of these letters, my shoulders sag. Only the other day, on the television, I joked that I'd never buy a car because it protected pedestrians well in an accident. There are, I explained, more important things to worry about, like how fast it goes and what it looks like. And, of course, the next week, I had a barrage of mail from people whose children had been run over and killed. Each one made me feel absolutely fucking dreadful.

What if one of my children were to be killed and then I had to watch some fat, balding oaf making jokes about it on television? I'd want to rip his throat out.

So, what's to be done? You can't review a car designed to do 215mph by sticking to 70. One solution, according to one of the letter writers, is to finish each story by saying, in a William Woolardish way, ‘Don't try this at home'. But that's silly.

You couldn't drive a Porsche Carrera GT at 200mph ‘at home' because you'd be forever crashing into the coffee table. What's more, I made a vow when I started out in TV that I'd never, ever say such a thing. Standing there, with a serious face, saying `Don't try this at home' implies that I am clever and talented and that you're a hopeless, mouthbreathing, knuckledragging oik.

And anyway, let's just assume you've come over the crest of a hill on a sunny morning and there, stretching out in front of your 360CS is a wide, deserted stretch on A-road.

Are you: a) going to drop a few cogs on the sequential paddle shift and floor it; or are you b) going to think ‘ooh wait a minute, Jeremy Clarkson said I mustn't do this', and slow right down?

My case rests.

Except it doesn't because the fact is that every year, several hundred people are killed in or by cars that are being driven too quickly. So what's to be done?

Well, I am afraid we have to start by looking at the bigger picture. And it's this. Speed is useful. Speed means we can get where we're going quicker, which means we can see more, do more and learn more. Speed makes us cleverer.

Speed also means we can leave work later and get home sooner so it makes us richer, and our families more stable.

Speed means we can have a more varied diet because we can have fresher produce from further afield every day in our local shop. Speed therefore makes us healthier.

Speed means we can expand our horizons. It means we can explore strange new worlds and new civilisations, like Cheshire and Norfolk. And Wales. This gives us a better understanding of the world and its peoples, and that makes us more tolerant. Speed brings peace.

Most of all, though; speed is fun. Watch the face of a toddler on a garden swing as you push them higher and faster. It's a face that screams ‘I am enjoying myself'. And you'll see the same face on a man whose pushing his 360 to the limit on his favourite piece of black top.

Speed then is both the face of civilisation and the core of our inner primaeval being. Speed is everything. So, you go and get yourself a Snooper radar detector and, in the meantime, I'll deal with the the angst of bereaved parents on your behalf.


Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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