Safety must come first in any driving

We love our cars. The motor industry has been very successful in ensuring that we almost all have one and that we update them as necessary, and sometimes even when it is not necessary.

Monday, 25th March 2019, 1:26 pm
A car crossing the Union Chain Bridge linking Northumberland and Berwickshire, therefore England and Scotland. This is the oldest suspension bridge (1820) still open for traffic, a case for very slow driving. Picture by John Wylde.

However, it is important to impress upon people when they first learn to drive that they are in charge of a potentially lethal weapon.

The vehicle, if it is handled carelessly, can kill or maim, but it is not always the driver who is the casualty. Often, even usually, it is some innocent person who is killed or injured as a result of somebody else’s bad driving.

Statistically, it is young male drivers who are the greatest risk on the road, often because it has not been impressed upon them sufficiently forcefully what can happen if they let their car run away with them.

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The brake, or even the clutch, can sometimes be a more important pedal than the accelerator.

The elderly, on the other hand, are, in general, much safer drivers, provided they have kept on top of their physical condition, particularly their eyesight.

Younger drivers may sometimes become impatient with them because their reactions are usually slower. However, older people are also less likely to take risks.

In the past, we were used to seeing police patrol cars on our roads, and careless or thoughtless drivers were likely to be stopped and given appropriate advice.

Nowadays, the police tend to leave it to the insurers to stop such people by making it much too expensive for them to continue driving.

Failure to wear a seatbelt in a car is sheer bravado.

It is not only self-imposed risks that can result in damage or injury, but also the need to protect oneself from the actions of others. It suggests the desirability of using all available means of self-defence.

It is called defensive driving, which means not only knowing what you are doing, but also knowing what other people are doing.

One hazard that received some publicity recently is that of being dazzled by the low winter sun.

Oncoming headlights can cause the same problem at night now that they have become so powerful, and are set so critically that bumps in the road (of which there are plenty) make it seem that they are flashing.

With so much damage caused to the edges of the lanes by ever-larger farm machinery and ever-larger lorries, a really useful feature has been the white line at the edge of the road. Unfortunately, this has now largely disappeared, presumably because it is not a statutory requirement and highway authorities are having to trim expenditure to the absolute minimum.

It would, perhaps, be useful if drivers would write to their MP asking that the authorities be given sufficient funds to provide such safety features.

An advertisement for a car 60 years ago featured its top speed of 70mph. This was before we had motorways.

Now top speeds are often quoted at more than double that. This may induce some people to drive hard up to the limit, or beyond, and they often exhibit impatience at anybody in front of them driving just 2mph slower than the limit.

My personal view is that the motorway speed limit might be increased to 75mph in ideal circumstances, but reduced in some cases.

And I believe that all other speed limits should be reduced by 5mph.

John Wylde is the author of Integrated Transport – a Will-o’-the-wisp? This book is priced at £14.95, post paid and signed by the author. Also Experiments in Public Transport Operation at £11.95. Order through the author’s website at or from Grieves on the corner of Church Street in Berwick.