Category Archives: Motoring organisations

What is the driving test for? : Notes on its social function at the 80th anniversary

Churchill1911DailyMail

Churchill in 1911 (Photo: Daily Mail)
“Few accidents arise… from ignorance of how to drive, and a much more frequent cause of disaster is undue proficiency leading to excessive adventure”. Winston Churchill, then Home Secretary, responding to a 1911 TUC delegation demanding the introduction of a driving test.

As we approach the 80th anniversary of the compulsory driving test in the UK, there will be some discussion of how there could be modifications of the current driving test. There will be calls for a ”graduated driving test” and possibly even the argument that drivers should retake “the test”.

I take a different approach. I argue that, however much it has been modified or tweaked, the role of the “test” is actually to boost the sense of entitlement of drivers – encouraging the sense of “undue proficiency” that Churchill perceptively noticed. Whatever benefits it may have are thus diminished, and I doubt whether it has a significant – or indeed perhaps any – overall function as a means of controlling road danger.

Saying this is rather taboo, but I think that this taboo needs to be broken. Let’s see how the compulsory driving test for motorists is in many ways part of the problem of danger on the roads. Below I enclose what I wrote about “the test” in 1992 (fully referenced version here)Page 108 – 111, and then I see whether anything has changed since then. Continue reading

“Not thought to be suspicious”: What makes the society we live in nothing less than fundamentally uncivilised.

 

PorschewentintoCaffeNero16052015
A Porsche has been driven over the footway and into the Gerrards Cross branch of Cafe Nero, temporarily trapping two customers. No charge has been made by Thames Valley police, who are quoted as saying that the incident is “not thought to be suspicious”.

In this essay I examine this and a few similar incidents to see how the authorities accept and tolerate obvious rule and law breaking by motorists. As well as the Police services involved, the official “road safety” authorities in highway engineering collude and connive with this sort of violent behaviour. There is little comment on these incidents to challenge what appears to be the dominant narrative of tolerance of this behaviour, not least the type of language involved.

I challenge that narrative below, and argue against the dominant approach to these incidents, as well as the tolerance of them by the authorities. I think it indicates that in a crucial respect – the apparent acceptance of rule and law breaking by people simply because they have chosen to drive – this society is fundamentally uncivilised. Continue reading

The AA’s “Think Bikes” campaign: What it tells us about “road safety”.

bicycle-sticker-440x           motorbike-sticker-440x 

Photos: AA Charitable Trust

 One million wing-mirror stickers are being sent out by the AA to remind drivers to watch out for two-wheelers on the road. The campaign is based on a poll for the AA showing that nine out of ten motorists admit that when driving, “it is sometimes hard to see cyclists”, with 55 percent of motorists claiming that they are often “surprised when a cyclist appears from nowhere.” It’s nice to see AA president Edmund King say that: “The AA Think Bikes campaign is definitely needed when half of drivers are often surprised when a cyclist or motorcyclist ‘appears from nowhere’. Those on two wheels never appear from nowhere (our emphasis) so as drivers we need to be more alert to other road users and this is where our stickers act as a daily reminder”.

So is this an unequivocal step forward? The main feature of this, as with so many other similar campaigns, is what it tells us about the beliefs underlying what passes for “road safety” – beliefs which we have to challenge.

So let’s take a look at the campaign and what underlies it in some detail: Continue reading

“Get Britain Cycling”

apcg_header

We have posted on the “Get Britain Cycling”  enquiry  before – and although regrettably we were not called to give evidence, some good contributions have been made to the enquiry. In this post – after asking you support EDM 679 directly or through the CTC  – we give a view on two talking points that have arisen: The revelation for some MPs that the police do not enforce road traffic law, specifically 20 mph limits (who knew?) and the AA president gratifying some cyclists by saying that drivers shouldn’t threaten to kill them (which we’re supposed to be impressed by?) Continue reading

“The True Costs of Automobility: External Costs of Cars”

First, the good news: another academic study  using conventional cost-benefit analysis finds that motorists in the 27 EU countries have a net economic cost to society, with the UK second only to Germany in costs. Take a look at the nice short summary  in the Guardian. It’s good to counteract what the Guardian correctly calls “The perennial complaint from drivers that they are excessively taxed”, not least the prejudice that cyclists are cheating by “not paying a tax”. The figure given for these external costs – £48 billion per annum, some £10 billion more than the total of motoring taxation revenue – looks pretty damning. However, it can be argued that the costs of motoring to society are considerably greater than those in the picture painted in the study, and that the report is inadequately critical of the status quo.

Let’s look at the report in a bit more detail. Continue reading