Updated: Jan 31, 2022
“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”
The late George Carlin comedian.
Speeding motorists and resulting death is a problem that is as old as the motor car itself. This is seen in the photo above from the Daily Mail 4th August 1900.
This sad problem was predicted by the seer Old Mother Shipton in her verse:
“Carriages without horses will go, and accidents fill the world with woe.”
But what has created this dominant environment of speed in the culture and promotion of the car?
I believe we can look no further than motor sport. Motor sport is a mixed blessing. It promotes innovation in design and safety of the car, whilst at the same time promoting the car and driving skill through speed.
Motor sport has been an accelerant for many innovations in the car: active suspension; semi-automatic gears; disc brakes; active braking systems; carbon fibre chassis; seatbelts; aerodynamics; tyre development; fuel development. Perhaps the simplest and most surprising development inspired by motorsport was the rear view mirror! The earliest known use of the rear view mirror was by Ray Harroun in the inaugural Indianapolis 500 race of 1911!
So much of the safety and functionality of the modern car has motorsport to thank.
However, at the same time motorsport has used speed to advertise the wonders of the modern car. This view of the car has transformed into popular culture and entertainment. Herbie, The Dukes of Hazard, Knight Rider and Top Gear would not be popular without the fast car. Indeed, nearly every popular action film relies upon the glorification of fast cars and speed.
I am not immune to this and in the past have transposed such culture to my driving. In the past despite driving boring cars. Every car I had before I became a father I tried out on some back road or disused air strip to see what its maximum speed was. The fastest being a Ford Focus at 130mph… more than a mile every 30 seconds!
Yet it was not my speed that was a factor when I suffered an accident that concussed me and wrote off my Citreon Picasso, it was inattention and mistake. I pulled out in front of a Nissan sports car on a back road in Lincolnshire. I accepted liability and responsibility and “got away with” both my life and a clean liscence by going on a driving safety course. However, speed was a factor in the accident. My cousin is a qualified accident investigation specialist and when he looked at the impact damage of my vehicle estimated the car that hit me was doing about 60 mph (just within the legal speed limit) before it braked. This was on a rural back road approaching a blind junction.
I do not feel aggrieved, just lucky and thankful for the actions of the police and ambulance and hospital for keeping me safe in an instance that to this day I cannot remember. I reminded of the wise words of the lorry driver father of one of my colleagues:
“There is no right or wrong on the road. Only those that are left.”