Scottish plods' gaffe

A Scottish police blitz on speeders has done nothing for safety. Targets set to secure more convictions were met and exceeded; more seatbelt offenders were caught. More drivers were convicted for using mobile phones, more insurance and driving licence offenders (not informing DVLA of an address change) were apprehended than ever before. Chief Constable Sir Stephen House made catching wrongdoers a priority when Police Scotland was created last year, setting targets to increase the number of speeding offences in order to “better influence driver behaviour”.
The result was that road deaths went up by 24 in 2013/14, including 55 per cent more motorcycle deaths and 50 per cent more cyclist deaths, an increase of 14 per cent.
A report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland suggests officers should have discretion over whether to issue warnings instead of fines. Neil Greig, the Institute of Advanced Motorists’ director of policy and research, and Edmund King, the AA’s president, said more emphasis was needed on educating rather than punishing drivers. Supt Iain Murray, head of road policy for the police was unabashed, claiming the force worked to meet Scottish Government targets to reduce road casualties. Speeding and mobile phone use “are all proven to contribute to collisions and to increase the likelihood and severity of injuries.”
QED I think.

Another COTY winner

COTY jurors aren’t voting for Car of the Year. They are voting to look Green. Why else would they have elected the Ampera in 2012? They surely can’t have expected it to sell more than a handful. They’re not that stupid. No, they are spooked, along with governments round the world, by what WS Gilbert called greenery yallery Grosvenor Gallery foot-in-the-grave young men. Or women.

Opel and Vauxhall dealers, who hadn’t a lot of choice perhaps, accounted for the first year’s 5,000 or so Amperas. That sank to 3,184 last year and collapsed to 332 in the first five months of this, of which only 46 were in its German home market. GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky vented frustration at Geneva: “All the governments in Europe said, ‘We want EVs, we want EVs.’ We show up with one, and where is everybody?” The answer is that they were off buying something else, real cars mostly.

COTY jurors are like governments appeasing Green voters with inglorious wind farms and wasteful subsidies. By any standards the Ampera was a disaster. Production is stopping and although GM will redesign the broadly similar Volt next year it won’t come to Europe.

There wasn’t much wrong with the Ampera. It was sensibly-sized and quite handsome, drove smoothly and quietly and as a hybrid didn’t have the range anxieties of milk-floaty plug-in electric cars, attracting complaints now about how costly they are to top-up. Apparently charging stations take money by the hour, without knowing how much electricity is actually being used. The cost can be just as much for a battery flat or near full.

I have said before that there is a FIFA flavour about Car of the Year. In 50 years COTY has never elected a Jaguar, Range Rover or Land Rover. It can’t be anti-British-ness. Munich doesn’t come off well either. There has been no BMW; a range that goes from Rolls-Royce to Mini has never made the grade except for second last year for the i3. It elected an electric Nissan yet COTY doesn’t do safety. Volvo and Saab never featured. Engineering excellence? Bentley has never made it. Production quality? There have been no Hondas. Value for money? No Skodas, no Seats but 9 Fiats, 6 Renaults and 5 Fords. I can’t understand why manufacturers get so excited by it.

Seat belts

The Institute of Advanced Motorists is upset that one in five drivers knows somebody who doesn’t use a seatbelt. In America they think being told to wear a seat belt is an infringement of personal liberty and in New Hampshire only 72 per cent of drivers wear them. They had to invent an America-only kind of seat belt that fastened on you automatically when you shut the car door. Here 95 per cent of drivers and front seat occupants wear them. It’s 30 years since they were made mandatory and I can believe the statistics that show how many lives they have saved. Yet I can remember the furore that accompanied the law; it was like the one that made motorcyclists wear crash helmets. There was a gung-ho minority that thought it was effete and safety gear of any sort was counter-intuitive. That is to say if you had too much of it and felt too secure you would take more risks. Well, it hasn’t worked out like that. Maybe there are a few hooligans in their belted-in, air-bagged cocoons who think they are immortal, but who would want to go back to the bad old days? I’m not sure I would welcome the big harnesses I fitted in my first Mark 1 Sprite. It took Nils Bohlin (1920-2002) of Volvo to invent the simple lap and diagonal in 1958 and save a million lives.

What are your views on safety legislation? Have you ever been saved by a seat belt, airbag or roll-hoop?

Good drivers

Aptitudes run in families. Ours was driving. Passing driving tests first time was obligatory. The requisite gene, I am sure, was my mother's. She rode motorcycles in the war. Father wasn’t very good, but my eldest brother had whatever visual acuity or sense of balance that makes a natural driver. He never lost the keen spatial awareness and skill he showed in a rally car. Or a Challenger tank I put him into in his 70s. Son Craig shows the same sort of natural talent, masterminding yachts at Cowes or in Atlantic races. Daughter Joanna showed it as a teenager on horses. Daughter Charlotte? Well, she kept her head tumbling out of aeroplanes, much as eldest brother did a generation ago.

The gene is on show again. Teddy is only four but, just as you can tell racing drivers with natural class within four laps, he took to driving as naturally as walking. Mercedes-Benz put him in an electric at Brooklands last Friday. Before setting off the kindly man-in-charge asked him what would happen if another child’s car got in his way. Teddy’s appraisal of the danger was instant. “We’d crash.” He observed.

He didn’t crash. Kind man showed him the reverse switch only once and he backed up, counter-steering, as though he’s been doing it all his life. He leaned into corners, obeyed the traffic light and was totally unafraid. His great-grand-mama would have been so proud. But she’d be completely unsurprised. It was as natural as riding a motorcycle.

I started driving seriously aged about 12. All my family did, and I have long been convinced that the foundations of a long and safe career at the wheel are laid long before you are 17. Great credit then, to Mercedes-Benz for giving 118,000 under 16s their first drive at Mercedes-Benz World. These young people have driven around a million miles since the scheme was launched in 2007. The only requirement is to be tall enough to reach the pedals of an A-class. There is guidance from professional driving coaches in 30-minute or one-hour Driving Experiences, which extend to dynamic handling and skid management.

The youngest under-16 to drive at Mercedes-Benz World was a tall-ish seven year old. What a great use for the historic Brooklands track.

Dear Teddy. You could be behind the wheel again inside three or four years.

There was, of course, some serious road-testing to be done. Above is the S600L in Magnetite black metallic with Passion Sahara Biege and black leather. It was, not unexpectedly, superbly smooth and quiet and worth £137,810 (with all the accessories) of anybody’s money. The girls Joanna (Teddy’s mother) on the left and Charlotte were collected from school in press test cars so took in their stride the Bang & Olufsen rear seat entertainment package, Beosound AMG sound surround system with 15 speakers and covers in aluminium and illuminated tweeters. Below is another picture of them I took earlier, with another test car. Charlotte on left this time, Joanna right.

Sir Jackie Stewart, campaigner

Jackie Stewart’s campaign for safety in motor racing was well acknowledged in last Friday’s TV documentary. There was no irony in the passing reference to Denis Jenkinson, Motor Sport’s Continental Correspondent. Perhaps Stewart’s most trenchant critic Jenks, once described by Stirling Moss, no less, as a National Treasure is all but forgotten outside the business. Stewart, though not without fault, remains a motor sporting exemplar.

There was little doubt about the daring of Denis Sargent Jenkinson 1920-1997, pictured seated in front of me in the press tribune at Monza. A student of engineering and a conscientious objector in the Second World War, he worked as a civilian at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, where he met Bill Boddy, keeping Motor Sport magazine going in difficult circumstances. Janks took part, notably as a sidecar passenger for Eric Oliver, winning a world championship in 1949. His small stature and robust physique suited him well in this most hazardous occupation, and he wrote about the experience vividly.

From the 1950s he travelled Europe, not earning much from the parsimonious proprietors of Motor Sport, but with a decent car (Porsche 356, E-type Jaguar) and adequate expenses to fulfil many a boyhood dream. He was deeply respected by leading drivers, including Moss, for whom he “navigated” to win the 1955 Mille Miglia. The result was a notable report that became a classic.

I got on well with Jenks for most of the years I was in motor racing. It was a convivial business. He never concealed his contempt for colleagues, particularly those writing for national newspapers, yet often acknowledged that I took motor racing seriously and reported less sensationally than most.

I don’t think Jenks trusted me after about 1970 because of my historic association with Tyrrell and Stewart. “John Young Stewart – World Champion”, a certain beady-eyed little Scot, whose … pious whinings have brain-washed and undermined the natural instincts of some young and inexperienced newcomers to Grand Prix racing and removed the Belgian Grand Prix from Spa-Francorchamps.” Jackie had advanced principles that were changing motor racing in ways Jenks abhorred. Barriers, debris fences, safety structures in cars, seat harnesses fireproof overalls and improved medical and rescue facilities was transforming the business and Jenks hated it. He was convinced that without the dangers, motor racing was no longer heroic.

He was by no means alone. Tracks forced to re-make corners, provide run-off areas and re-write rules to making things safer applauded his angry outbursts. “Can you really ask me in all honesty to admire, or even tolerate, our current reigning World Champion Driver?” Jackie responded with dignity, but his real response was unequivocal. He was simply faster than everybody else and in terms of lives saved his legacy is secure.

One way of covering the Monaco Grand Prix was to walk round the circuit during the race, by way of the pavement. I took this picture of Lorenzo Bandini (Ferrari) leading the first lap in 1967. Unthinkable now but I was by no means alone. Bandini was overtaken and from lap 15 to lap 81 of the 100lap race lay second. The Ferrari overturned at the chicane, caught fire, trapping him underneath for several minutes, inflicting fatal burns.


If Camden Council, The Guardian and the Lib-Dems agree on something it is almost certainly restrictive, dirigiste and mistaken. They are campaigning for 20mph speed limits. The European Citizen’s Initiative is praising councils calling for 20mph, “for residential streets with populations,” and no, I don’t know what that means either. Sounds like the woolly thinking of self-serving populists.

Nobody is against measures that reduce casualties yet the overwhelming evidence is that simply posting notices and passing laws do not always work. As recently as August the Department of Transport said casualties in 20mph zones had gone up, while those on 30mph roads had gone down. Portsmouth brought in a blanket 20mph limit in 2007. The numbers of killed and injured went up from 79 to 143.

The fact is that drivers don’t pay attention and pedestrians are complacent in “Twenty’s Plenty” zones. The behaviour of neither is commendable but laying down a law is not going to change things. Let’s go instead for what works, and the 85 percentile rule by and large does. Speed limits based on what 85 per cent of traffic thinks is about right, means that 85 per cent of it complies and the 15 per cent that don’t can be weeded out and punished. It is practical, it has been the rule since urban speed limits were brought in under the 1930 Road Traffic Act, and despite increasing traffic ever since, casualties have been steadily decreasing. We must have been doing something right. Let us not allow Camden Council, The Guardian and the Lib-Dems to make a mess now.
A 20mph zone for a 1933 Vauxhall Light Six. Does anybody recognise the road? It looks like Rest-and-be-Thankful (on which restorative work seems to be once again delayed) but it might be somewhere in Wales. I doubt our family Vauxhall of the time HS 8635 if my memory serves me, ever made it to Campbeltown but if it had, this is the road it would have taken.

Fair cop

“The Council of the London Borough of Ealing believes that a penalty charge is payable for an alleged traffic contravention…” It was quite right. I knew when I stopped on that box junction that I shouldn’t. I had driven round the block after spotting number one daughter crossing the road. I was afraid she would dart into Lidl’s and disappear. I expected the white van to clear the junction but it didn’t. I dislike snooping cameras but you couldn’t argue with this one. It had video if I tried to argue, and I suspect the Council wouldn’t be impressed with catching number one daughter. I should have been paying more attention. I won’t do it again.

The lights are going out

Nobody knows if Sir Edward Grey actually said, “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.” He might have said “lights”, or “in our lifetime”. According to his memoirs he was looking out of a Whitehall window, on 3 August 1914, at a lamplighter on his rounds. As foreign secretary on the eve of the First World War he might have been more explicit. We’ll never know.
Now the lights are going out again. It’s getting on for a hundred years since Grey and once more we are into collective madness. It’s not the eve of war, but there are sure to be casualties. Lights on motorways, main roads, and town centres are being turned off to meet carbon emission targets. The M1 between Luton and Milton Keynes will have no lights from midnight until 5 in the morning. Street lights on pavements and cycleways, in city centres and residential streets will be dimmed or darkened to whoops of joy from footpads and burglars. There will be slips and falls by the infirm or unwary. To some, unlit streets will represent a curfew. An official wrote patronisingly to a complainant; the council, apparently, could not “provide tailored street lighting for each individual’s particular needs”.
The new black-out worries safety and motoring organisations, which say economic and environmental benefits are over-stated, warning that less street lighting will lead to more accidents and more crime. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) said: “The presence of lighting not only reduces the risk of traffic accidents but also their severity. Surveys show that the public is in favour of street lighting as a way of improving road safety and that, if anything, it needs to be improved.”
Paul McClenaghan, commercial director at Halfords, said: “Poor lighting or none at all can make it very difficult for motorists to see hazards or objects clearly at night. Added to this Government figures show that road accidents increase in the week after the clocks change, so it is clear that extra vigilance is needed at this time of the year, from motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.” Paul Watters, head of roads policy at the AA, told The Daily Telegraph: “We do know that most accidents happen in the dark, it’s also comforting for people, especially if they arrive back from somewhere in the night, when they have got a late train. There are suggestions that it increases crime. Motorway drivers don’t like changing situations, from light to dark and dark to light, but I don’t think we would argue for no lighting at all. It is extremely comforting for drivers, especially in bad weather.”
Switching-off motorway lights means that 70 per cent of the network is now unlit. Sections of the M1, M2, M27, M4, M48, M5, M54, M58, M6, M65 and M66 are now unlit from midnight. (top) Bugatti Royale 41.111 with designer Jean Bugatti. French textile manufacturer Armand Esders ordered it without headlamps. He did not intend driving it at night on roads lit or unlit.

Car Fires

There is nothing the Guardianistas on the Today programme love more than a good scare story. This morning it was rising food prices and 138,000 Toyotas going on fire. Even its interviewee on the price of wheat was cautious about its effect on the cost of a loaf. Scott Brownlee did a decent job of saying Toyota’s recall concerned a window switch in danger of melting, and 138,000 Rav4s and Corollas were not about to incinerate themselves. Silly woman presenter kept claiming Toyota’s press release said there was a fire risk. It said nothing of the kind, but in her efforts to show how nasty big corporations are she exaggerated, and Toyota had to issue an amendment.

Toyota Window Switch Recall: Clarification On Media Reports Of ‘Fire Risk’ Issue Toyota has today announced a recall of 138,000 Yaris, Auris and RAV4 cars in the UK. This involves the electrical contact in the driver’s side Power Window Master Switch (PWMS), which may over time come to feel ‘notchy’ or sticky during operation.

If commercially available cleaning lubricants are applied to the switch to address the notchy or sticky feel, the switch assembly may overheat and/or melt. In the USA, issues of melting or erosion are categorised under ‘fire’ by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. If a car's power window switch feels notchy, owners should not attempt to address the issue themselves with commercially available lubricants. Toyota engineers have conducted various simulation tests, including using commercially available lubricants. In no instance did a fire result. There has been only one case related to this issue in the UK, and no reported accidents.

Trouble was, this is the second recall of door window switches in as many days, and Honda’s press release was more alarmist. Honda said it would be trying to contact everyone who owns a Swindon-made CR-V, “because of a potentially dangerous defect that could lead to it catching fire”. The problem was spotted after one owner in Britain, and four in the United States said they could smell burning. It seems to be a faulty seal on a master switch inside the driver’s door that controls the automatic windows. If liquid seeps inside, it could overheat and the door could catch fire. Are they all using the same switch? The same supplier? The same door trim manufacturer? I think we should be told.

The pictures are of a Volvo that caught fire on a Scottish road. It started as a small conflagration under the bonnet (top), but as I watched the car comprehensively destroyed itself, with much crackling and banging as windows broke and fuel ignited. Another memorable car fire I watched was when a colleague in the Glasgow motor trade was trying to sell a VW Beetle (old air-cooled sort) to an overweight Glasgow lady. She thought she would try the back seat but was so heavy that when she sat down the batteries underneath shorted out through the seat springs. The upholstery caught fire, then the whole interior, the paint blistered and the tyres caught light. The fire service came and put it out. She didn’t buy the VW.


I do not often agree with this road safety charity, but it is right to worry over 999 drivers being somehow above the law. Blue lights already make them too self-important. Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC thinks, “police officers, ambulance drivers, and firefighters sometimes need to drive in a manner that would not be acceptable to others.” He believes prosecution, “unlikely to be appropriate in cases of genuine emergency, unless the driving is dangerous or evidence indicates a high degree of culpability.”

He claims, of course, that his proposals should not be taken as a licence for emergency workers to act as though immune from prosecution. Pious rubbish. Emergency workers already have sensible leeway, but they have far too many accidents. Between 204 and 2012 there were 265 fatalities during, or after, “police related road traffic incidents.” In 2009 police owned up to 3357 accidents. Founding fathers of the IAM, like Bob Peters, class 1 police drivers proud of their exemplary fast and safe driving, would have rejected Starmer’s absurd proposal. Where next? Exemptions for all citizens in cases of genuine emergency? Dashing back to turn the gas off? Letting the cat out? Some emergency Braking is required.