It is only a few days since I wrote this:
The sum of human history tells us that what we had in 20th century motoring was heavily influenced by the instincts men are born with. Go out, adventure, get over that next hill come what may, even if you have to jury-rig a fan belt, dodge the police and piss in the radiator to get there. God knows I’ve driven the length and bredth of Europe on a wing and a prayer more times than I can remember.
Whereas in the 21st century – enter seatbelts, ABS, airbags, traction control, lane assist, parking assist, isofix, child seats, booster seats, run flat tyres, sat nav and electric motors with a range of 8 – clean, green, mollicoddled motoring has come to embody the spirit of woman. Stay close to home, stay safe, don’t get hurt, don’t get lost, and if it goes wrong, call the man (yes, the man!) from the AA, and shrug your sholders because it’s too complicated for you to do anything about.
So you can imagine my total lack of surprise when I saw this in The Times (paywall, see open link below):
All new cars will be fitted with devices that make sure they automatically keep to the speed limit in a move billed as the biggest overhaul of road safety in more than 50 years.
Within the next three years, models sold in Europe are expected to use technology that detects limits and slows down vehicles travelling too fast.
It will be one of 15 new safety features fitted as standard to cars, HGVs or buses. Other measures include technology that detects when drivers are losing concentration or falling asleep, a system that keeps cars in the centre of lanes and accident black boxes that record vehicle movements.
All cars will also be fitted with automatic emergency braking, which brings vehicles to a stop when pedestrians step into the road or a car ahead suddenly slams on the brakes.
The measures were approved by the European Commission and are expected to be rubberstamped by the European parliament and member states in September. The UK government has already said that vehicle standards will be aligned with those in the EU after Brexit, meaning that the same rules will be expected on British roads.
You can read the full text here if you’re so inclined. Balls to their paywall.
There’s a great deal to say about this… the engineering challenges, who will bear the costs, what the political fall-out might be, the flawed opportunities for the police to withdraw further from roads policing, the unintended consequences for road-safety (see risk compensation, or read Risk by John Adams)…. but I can’t be bothered.
I was thinking about how active I used to be 20 years ago in the space of motoring politics, how we railed and wrote letters, cited studies and raised petitions, as speed limits were lowered, diesel power imposed upon us, laws tightened and penalties stiffened, money-spinning speed cameras proliferated and traffic police with experience and discretion disappeared… and what a lather we got ourselves into on the forums. None of it mattered. It didn’t make a blind bit of difference. Not one iota. We sure spent our time angry though.
And really, what did any of it matter?
The disappearance of the police made speeding easier since cameras are easy to game, no matter that it also made drink-driving far far easier to get away with. There’s no doubt that in most serious respects – in spite or because of EU meddling – cars are better now than they were 20 years ago, though I certainly buy my cars very much on how few opinions they have on matters. No, I’m not wearing my seatbelt, yes I did intend to change lanes, no I’m not changing gear yet, no I’m not tired. Fuck off.
The diesel thing is another matter. There’s no doubt that the taxation-driven push towards diesel engines has had a terrible impact on town centre air pollution across Europe and that the particulates and Nitrogen gases have caused people health problems and suffereing, probably netting out in grim deaths that could have been avoided otherwise. The problems were all well known and documented 20 years ago. We had known health threats imposed upon us in pursuit of a fairy at the bottom of the garden called CO2.
But it’s done, and nothing you or I could have done or said would have stopped any of this collusion between big government, big business and big green with the inevitable results, that are, by no-coincidence, borne mainly by those who are not in the bumchum club with big government, big business and big green.
I think it’s when my father was at about my current age that he said ‘I’m glad I wasn’t born later’. I now think the same.
These laws will come in 2021/2022.. I reckon I could run pre-2021 cars for the rest of my natural, the way cars are built these days, so long as I’m canny. Not that I’ll be immune from the obstructive preponderance of drones at 69MPH on the motorway, but then I tend not to drive when every one else is out anyway.
And that’s because the roads are so congested now that we have more than 66M people in this country, compared with less than 59 million 20 years ago, and no more infrastructure than we had. We also have far more women participating in the work force, and far more people working far away from where they live. And then there’s the technology that was vaunted as freeing us but is used to bind us.
These are a whole other pallet of tinned annelids that I’ll save for another day. Maybe. It’s all been said before. Perhaps it bears repeating.
UPDATE: A mere 2 weeks after I wrote this, Rory Sutherland had something sensible to say about it in the Spectator. [PASTEBIN]