Clarkson on: speed limits
Since quiz shows are all the rage at present, I thought we'd begin this month with a question. If you took two identical cars to Silverstone and drove one round the track at an average speed of 70mph and one at 50mph, which one do you think would cross the finishing line first?
Not so fast, Mr Weakest Link, because new figures from the government of spin, headed by His all conquering greatness, President Tony, seem to show that the slower you go, the faster you'll get there.
They've just finished the great M25 experiment with moveable speed limits, and now they're saying that contrary to the teachings of Einstein, E does not equal MC squared. Time and distance have nothing to do with one another. Darwin was wrong, North is South and the moon is made of cheese.
Yes, the New Labour egg heads say that since the speed limit on the M25 was dropped from 70 to 50mph, journey times have been cut by 27 per cent. Well if that's the case, let's cut them to 0mph because then we'd get there before we set off. Better still, let's go everywhere in reverse.
Sometimes I lie awake at night worrying that these people are running the country. They are deciding how many troops should be sent to Afghanistan and whether we should join the euro. They are in control of a multi-billion-pound public purse and they're all as daft as brushes.
Really, they are, because having announced that the slower you go, the faster you'll get there, and that speed kills anyway, they've now decided that the best thing they can do is increase the motorway speed limit to 80mph.
No, it isn't. They say that an 80mph limit will bring us into line with the rest of Europe but look, if it's European harmonisation they're after, they should start with something useful, like plug sockets. Or better still, get the French to speak English.
"Sometimes I lie awake at night worrying that these people are running the country"
It's fine to drive at 80 in France because, for the most part, there are few cars on the road. It's fine to drive at 80 in Italy because at this point most of the locals are just getting into second. And it's fine to do 80 in Germany because you'll get out of there more quickly.
It is, however, not fine to have an 80 limit in Britain because then, the police will turn a blind eye to those doing 95. And 95 on British motorways is too fast. There are too many other cars, too many Nissans, too many pensioners coming the other way on the wrong side of the road.
And then, in the middle of the night, when there's nothing in front of you but a rolling horizon, and Doris is tucked up in bed, who cares whether the speed limit is 80 or 70? It's still 500mph too low.
There's worse news too because someone at the Brain of Britain factory in Whitehall has decided that some of Britain's busiest motorways will not be subject to the increase. Instead the limit will be cut, permanently, to 50.
Now what kind of a moron thought that one up? The stretches they're talking about are most of the M25, chunks of the M4 and that bit of the M6 just north of Birmingham. But as anyone who's ever set foot outside Maida Vale knows, 50mph on these roads is an impossible dream. You could make the limit mach one and it wouldn't make the slightest bit of difference.
It'd be like making it illegal to have sex with Cameron Diaz. Fine. I wasn't going to anyway.
If I ever find myself doing 50mph at any point between Walsall to the Hilton Park services, I promise, I will pull onto the hard shoulder and eat the car.
This, however, is what His Tonyness fails to understand; that people go with the flow. We drive as fast as traffic conditions allow. We use public transport when its better than taking the car. We use an umbrella when it's raining and wear a jumper when it's chilly. Or not, if we live in Newcastle. The point is that we don't need a government to tell us what to do from the moment we get out of bed in the morning.
Of course, the big advantage of the new 50 limit is that in the middle of the night, no-one will stick to it, and they'll raise an absolute fortune from those cameras which are hidden on the far side of the gantries. But, you sense, that is just a bonus, a bit of a cherry on the icing. The main reason they want to mess with the speed limit is the same reason they want to mess with everything else. Because politicians are born to interfere.
Think what it must be like to go for a drive with His Tonyness in the back. ‘No, it's left here. No, not that left. Go sort of straight ahead down the centre but a soft left.'
Then there's the problem with the railways. The only reason they can never be made to work is because politicians like Stephen Byers, who doesn't have a single atom of business acumen in his entire being, keeps sticking his nose in.
And what about terrorism? If there's one country on earth which knows how to deal with the spectre of the car bomb it's us. We've had more practice than anyone but along comes David Blunkett and, all of a sudden, you can be locked up for owning a tea towel.
I've said it before but it warrants another airing. A government's job is to erect park benches and change the bulbs in the street lights. And that's pretty much it.
Leave us alone and for crying out loud, leave the speed limit alone as well.
This article was originally published in the January 2002 issue of Top Gear Magazine