Chris Harris on... the sorry state of UK driving standards | Top Gear
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Saturday 23rd September

Chris Harris on... the sorry state of UK driving standards

Terrible displays of driving on UK roads and a lack of police on the prowl – not a coincidence, says Chris

Published: 15 May 2023

Life has taken a strange turn when someone like me can type the words ‘I wish there were more police cars on the road in 2023’. But I do wish exactly that.

Speed cameras have left a strange legacy in the UK. Their influence on reducing road fatalities is statistically undeniable, but only if you agree that the most common factor in all road deaths is speed. That remains a contentious issue and one I’m not going to debate here.

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What I find incredibly sad is the wasted years since the introduction of speed cameras in the early Nineties. Driving standards are clearly at their worst since records began – ignore the spreadsheets and just open your eyes to observe the mayhem out there. It’s hard to decipher between those who simply don’t care about driving and those who have never really been taught how to.

Before speed cameras were invented, we had things called ‘police cars’. They lurked in unexpected places and sprung out on you when you’d been naughty. In my case, this would have been a case of youthful exuberance, and the result would have been a stern talking to and maybe a few points on my licence.

But the legacy of that particular interaction (and, yes, it did happen) was that every time I was presented with a similar situation in the future, that copper was on my shoulder, judging me. When you’re pinged by a speed camera, the same isn’t true.

Speeding fines now mostly arrive in the post. In fact, they’re probably one of the few reasons we still need a functioning postal service – them and gas bills and general hate mail from the DVLA. You open the letter, browse your personal memory files to ascertain if it was you or not, then consult your phone diary, and if indeed you are the guilty party, you say “b*****ks”. And get on with your life. Nothing more to be done.

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The only time you’ll actually use that experience to inform your driving in the future is, I suspect, if you already have so many points on your licence that you have a genuine fear of it being taken from you. Some might argue that a key sign of society failing is when its citizens aren’t even encouraged to learn from extreme punishments. Yes, we have speed awareness courses, but they’re widely considered to be a “phew I didn’t get three points” get-out, even if much of the information in them is well presented and does land with some attendees.

I just don’t understand how we’ve reached a point where revenue generation from motorists has completely out-prioritised safety. The motorist is seen as a profit point now – some of it under the guise of ‘safety’, or ‘pollution’ or whatever else is a convenient excuse.

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