Loughborough & District
Cycle Users' Campaign

The Human right to drive

In the Granby Street Car Park there is a notice "400 people will die this year as a result of Drink Driving." Unfortunately that leaves more than 3000 who will be killed by persons who have taken and passed an official driving test but who are evidently unable to conduct a motor vehicle without driving it into another vehicle, person or stationary object, even when they are stone cold sober.

The unpalatable truth is that every citizen capable of driving safely for a few minutes in the presence of an official examiner has an assumed human right to drive. No test or examination can predict who will prove to be dangerous drivers but inevitably they expose themselves when the front of the vehicle they are driving is damaged in a collision.

In real life if the bath is overflowing most people would agree that the reasonable thing to do is to turn the tap off. The equivalent in the world of motoring would be to restrict the driving of motor vehicles to those who can do so without causing their vehicles to become involved in front end collisions.

Ten unnecessary deaths every day bear witness to the fact that we allow people to drive who for whatever reason are unable to do so safely. But because the right to drive is effectively sacrosanct , as a society we refuse to face this unbearable reality.

So, vroom, vroom, we enter the world of motoring fantasy. A world full of animated cars that skid, roll over, get out of control, run into the vehicle in front, collide with lampposts, hit cyclists, kill pedestrians, fail to take the corner, run off the road etc. and so on. The capabilities of the fantasy animated car are virtually unlimited and regularly reported in the press. Reality, of course, is that cars remain stationary and do nothing that is not the direct result of the actions of the driver. Every movement of a car is dictated by the driver who should be, but frequently is not, held responsible. "It wasn't my fault, there was ice on the road and the car skidded"; (Naughty car !). However, the animated car is but one small aspect of a whole world of unreality..

Only in the fantasy world of motoring would it be considered a desirable selling point that a car used mainly for shopping and short journeys should have a maximum speed of over 100 m.p.h. in a country with an alleged legal maximum of 70 m.p.h . In this world everyone talks about accidents when referring to collisions. Believe it or not, a collision is caused when a driver drives his vehicle into another vehicle, person, or stationary object. There is rarely anything accidental about it. The causes are manifold, some predictable, some not, some physical, some psychological, many simply due to incompetence, irresponsibility, carelessness or lack of judgement. Even being a good (i.e.skillful) driver is not necessarily the same as being a safe driver.

In the real world the risk of someone losing a driving licence should weigh less than the risk of someone losing their life,. No one knows for certain who can drive safely until the person who cannot do so demonstrates that he or she is a potential danger by producing a vehicle damaged in the front. Collisions and crashes occur because a dangerous driver drives his or her vehicle into someone or something. Furthermore, there is no danger unless there is a collision. Until there is a collision, even driving fast is not actually dangerous, talking on a mobile phone is evidently too difficult for many people to do safely but maybe there are some who can.. Come to that neither is it even actually dangerous to be drunk at the wheel. No one denies that the potential of this behaviour is there and it is right and proper that driving too fast, or talking on the phone and driving drunk should be actively discouraged. But in this fantasy world, assumptions, guesswork, presumptions, and opinions overrule everything else.

So we get the situation where people who have driven for hundreds of thousands of miles and decades on end without colliding with anything, are taken off the road as "dangerous" because they have been caught by a camera on three occasions driving at 38 mph on a empty road in a built up area. The latest suggestion is that elderly drivers who have a collision free record should be tested because they might be "dangerous". One more guessing game in the fantasy world to distract from the reality Meanwhile, a driver can get himself involved in any number of collisions and until someone is injured, or one of the guessing game offences has been committed, there is no legal obligation even to inform the police. To crash a car is not by itself an offence.

In the fantasy world of motoring nothing unexpected ever happens. It is a world where freezing conditions do not create slippery road surfaces, where cyclists never swerve, children never run out into the road nor cars stop suddenly without warning. How could anyone anticipate such a thing ?, If any of these things result in a collision the driver can always claim "I didn't stand a chance" and expect to get away with it.

But I forget. There are very good reasons why this social game should be allowed to continue regardless of the bloodshed. Think of the jobs. It is said that every fatal collision costs about £250.000 or more (largely cost of labour)

  • Every collision means work for a repair shop.
  • The lawyers and Insurance Companies benefit.
  • No need to mention the Chancellor.
  • Then there are the Speed Camera and Radar Equipment Manufacturers who help the police on one side and warn drivers on the other.
  • The world of publishing. would be devastated by any threat to the motor industry.
  • The designers and manufacturers of equipment, crumple zones, seat belts, gas bags, impact bars etc.
Special thought needs to be given to the latter, all designed to give every driver the confidence of knowing that however much he or she may endanger pedestrians, cyclists, and the occupants of other vehicles, everything possible has been done to ensure. his or her own safety. Everything, oddly enough,, except the compulsory wearing of a safety helmet. In the privileged fantasy world of motoring that particular campaign is reserved for cyclists who suffer far fewer head injuries than motorists and their passengers.

Really careful drivers even fit bull bars invented in Australia to kill Kangaroos and protect the vehicle while doing so. A government that supports the Motor Industry approves these in the UK where they help to kill pedestrians and children who might otherwise suffer less terminal injury.

The solution. There is no need to do anything as drastic as, for example, permanently disqualifying everyone involved in a very minor front-end shunt. Initially, perhaps, just six months automatic disqualification for the second serious collision in two years. (It should be a reasonable defence for the driver to call an official Examiner to certify that this collision would not have resulted in failure if it had occurred while taking a driving test). No fines for anything except for parking offences and driving when disqualified. Speed limits to be advisory only. Garages to report all front end repair work. The driving ban to be imposed regardless of personal circumstances. Drivers might be even more careful if they knew beforehand that their job and livelihood depended on their possession of a driving licence.

Anyone involved in more than three front end collisions in five years should be permanently barred from driving. Tough. Too tough for those who think the risk of losing a driving licence is worse than the risk of someone losing their life or being seriously injured. There would be, however, a number of incidental benefits. The roads would be less crowded for safe drivers. There would be no need for road humps No need for speed cameras. Public Transport would improve as the number of influential people barred from driving increased. There might even be an improvement in public health as more people who were unable to drive either walked or cycled short distances.

But it will never happen.

Ten deaths a day., seventy deaths a week, nearly three hundred deaths every month not to mention thousands more seriously injured. It is a high price paid by the victims and their relatives. But as a society we are prepared to pay it for the universal human right to drive.

Frank Mackey
7/11/05.

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