Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why stop at speed cameras?

I greatly enjoyed the comments of Julie Spence - the outgoing Chief Constable of the Cambridgeshire police force - who claimed that 'speeding is middle class anti-social behaviour'. Too bloody right.

Her intervention was prompted by the current trend towards turning off speed cameras on our roads, which is driven by the desire to save money and a crazy ideological objection to the idea of 'snooping'. One of my favourite journalists, David Aaronovitch of The Times, pulled this nonsense apart the other day in his column. If these cameras are so expensive, how come their opponents have always criticised them for being a money-making venture? The 'cost' is a complete and utter red herring. What the pro-speed lobby actually wants is the ability to break the law with impunity. Supporters believe, in their arrogance, that once they are behind the wheel of their car, they should be free to drive at whatever speed they wish, regardless of the consequence to wider society.

We can spend all day arguing about how many lives are saved by speed cameras or how much more deadly a car is at, say, 40 mph than it is at 30. There is, however, a much more fundamental point, which is that society has the right to regulate the behaviour of its citizens and the state should be able to take reasonable steps to enforce the law. Not draconian and extreme steps. Reasonable steps, such as the gathering of photographic evidence that can aid a prosecution.

If we accept the argument that councils have no right to check whether people are speeding, we have to ask ourselves whether we believe in regulating speeding at all. (Historically, on German Autobahns, for instance, people have been able to drive as fast as they like. Perhaps this is what we secretly crave?)

And if we don't want to regulate speeding, why bother with other rules about Zebra and pedestrian crossings? Aren't they a terrible infringement of the motorist's right to drive? In fact, why have a driving test in the first place? Isn't it disgraceful that the state imposes its own particular view about how people should reverse around a corner or approach a roundabout?

I'm reminded of the barmy chainsmoking Thatcherite, Nicholas Ridley, who while Secretary of State for Transport in the early 1980s was reported to believe that traffic lights impeded the flow of vehicles.

I cannot abide the sanctimonious hypocrisy and bleating of the motoring lobby and the Top Gear junkies who love to regale us with stories of doing 120 down the M1. And, to be fair, I have equal contempt for the cyclists who believe that they are somehow exempt from stopping at junctions or obeying any rules of the road. Both show a complete disregard for others and I personally don't mind if the government sticks a few cameras up to stop them. In fact, I have some good suggestions about where to stick the cameras.

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