Two weeks ago I attended a speed awareness course. An option offered instead of receiving 3 points on my driver’s license. In the UK we can only have 12 points before it is taken away for a compulsory ban. Points can be accrued for being a little over the speed limit, using a handheld mobile phone, etc, etc.
In my case, it was for doing 35 mph in a 30 limit. I will say that this was not in a town, but between two villages on the Northeast coast of Britain. Also, I did not know the area, had my mother and her dogs in the car. Thankfully I could attend the course here in Cornwall.
The little room was full of a mix of people and diverse ages apart from the very young. All levels of experience and knowledge, from the commercial driver to the little old lady who only pops down to the shops. Those taking the course were driving instructors. Their aim, to partake a little knowledge to those who were there simply to avoid the points. Both were good people and very articulate. Like a group of naughty school children, we sat at the start and shared how we got caught. The recent changes in the highway code, refreshed areas we had forgotten…It also informed us how car design has changed, for instance how stopping distances have been reduced with antilock brakes. Why more people survive accidents thanks to airbags, how cars now deform when others impact them, etc.
All which is very good, but and this is major but, cars are now not only filled with distractions but also they have major blind spots. With ever increasing levels of safety, car pillars are becoming far wider. If you compare a car from the 60’s, 70’s or early 80’s they seem so light and airy. The blind spots are far less. Now yes, it does make them less safe in the event of an accident, but arguably it makes some accidents far less likely.
Within recent years there is more and more electronic interference in the driving experience. Electric power steering can rob all tyre feel. For example, I drove a modern automatic supermini to near London and back again in April. It was far more like a simulator than it should have been. The car gave no feedback to what was going on beyond the windscreen. Many messages of the changing conditions bypassed. Often it was only my experience that helped to fill the gaps. At low speed the car is amazing, but it was not a driver’s car in any shape or form. The auto-box is not the traditional torque converter, but a more modern electronic clutch,taking away feel and choice. There are tricks an experienced driver can do with a torque converter that can help in difficult conditions. Those options are taken from the driver and therefore reduces control.
The designer of the original Mini, Sir Alec Issigonis, gave it the most amazing handling. Anyone has ever driven one fell in love it almost immediately. When asked why, Sir Alec replied, “it made the car safer for the district nurse, the young mother.” Instead of making a car that was soul destroying to drive, he went the other way. He saw safety in the ability of the driver to react. Of course, he accidently created one the greatest rally cars of all time…
I drive a MK 3 Golf convertible, she is old, tired and battered. She really should not be used the way I do, often overloaded and pulling a trailer. Yet, of all the cars I’ve owned and driven, she is my second favourite. A simple car with amazing visibility and such fun to drive. Every journey is an adventure not because I wonder when or if she will break down.
Driving can be a joy… Well when not caught in an endless traffic jam, and even then the odd roundabout calls.
Sadly, we are heading towards driverless cars as they become metal boxes of convenience. Each new technology takes us a little further away from the joy of driving. As a result, the level of awareness on British road is becoming truly awful. In many ways, the change to complete driverless cars cannot happen fast enough. Then we can all become the faceless drones that many would like us to be.
I will still remember the call of the open road. My fear is that soon all I will have are those memories.
Since this blog was originally posted I’ve bought a Suzuki Vitara(Tugg) so accidental speeding is much less of a problem.