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James May

James on: road safety

Published: 09 Aug 2013

When I was younger, I craved the unqualified love of women, hedonistic experiences and the odd supercar. But now I realise that actually I'd just like another drink, and my only remaining ambition
is to reach the end of my life without running over anybody.

This ought not to be too difficult: pay attention, and drive considerately, in accordance with the only law that will be in force in May's Britain; namely, don't be a prat.

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So now, tediously and inevitably, we must consider the issue of speed limits. I think they tend to suggest themselves to a large extent. Slow is cool around towns and villages, because it's full of people whom you might run over.

To be honest, I don't even mind the odd 20mph limit, especially during the day. 30mph down Hammersmith's high street is definitely too fast, because the people of Hammersmith like to wander around in the road and even leap into it unexpectedly. But why shouldn't they? It's their road, and it's my responsibility not to run over any of them.

The speed limit on the motorway for modern cars should be 90-95mph, because, in fact, it is. That's what people are doing, and the people police the law. We can't all be wrong about this.

Finally, there's the countryside, which is for driving through and looking at, generally at high speed. Not the hamlets, of course, because there are people there whom you might run over, but apart from that, the sticks are for speed. By going quickly, you see more of it and pass rapidly through the smelly bits, and everyday rural folk will be glad that you're gone sooner.

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So: speed cameras. I hate this subject, because the first speed camera in Britain was on a route to work I took 20 years ago, and I've been listening to people whine about them ever since. In my experience, the vast majority of permanent speed cameras are exactly where you'd expect them to be, so avoiding a fine is just a matter of intelligence. Speeding is like farting - you have to know when it's inappropriate.

However, I've found one camera I regard as truly unacceptable. It's on the A303 somewhere between Stonehenge and my mum and dad's house, so that's beyond the stone age but not quite in the modern world.

A bit of background: much of this road is single-file stuff, but there is the occasional two-lane section so you can drop it down a couple and get past the Peugeot. One such section appears on a short uphill stretch.

This was a good idea, especially if you're behind a lorry full of local produce being delivered somewhere else. The problem, though, is that the road reduces to one lane again just over the brow of the hill, and it narrows from the right.

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To my mind, this is a truly criminal bit of road engineering, apparently designed with the express purpose of killing people. The answer, then, is to get past whatever is in the left-hand lane absolutely as quickly as possible. There may be others behind you wanting to do the same. They must be given a fair chance of survival.

So, incredibly, there is a speed camera just before the top, the effect of which is to make people brake in a panic and crest the rise on the wrong side of the road and alongside a truckload of sheep. Everyone behind has to brake as well. Each time I drive this bit of road, I'm amazed when I don't find a massive heap of crashed cars to rival the ancient monument further back. It's lethal.

Well, some of you may be thinking, if whatever is in the left-hand lane is at or very near the speed
limit, just stay behind it. Cobblers. I'm not going to drive to Devon behind a truckload of horse feed. Spoils the view.

Whatever authority is responsible for this nonsense has tempted us with a vital overtaking opportunity and then snatched it from us, putting the open jaws of a monster just over the hill for good measure. They provideth, and they taketh away, which is out of order, because they're not God.

Why not just put a speed hump halfway up and have done with it? Surely there is a good case here for a reverse speed camera, one that snaps anyone doing less than 90mph in the outside lane and bans them for a year. There should be a sign at the bottom of the hill saying: "You have 400 yards. Give it the berries! Otherwise you'll be staring into the abyss of eternity with nowhere to go! Be swift!"

Or maybe something a bit more concise. Sometimes, speed saves.

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