The summer is long and sometimes, rain happens. Sadly, rain has happened with depressing frequency in days of recent, so I have become divorced from the usual array of outdoor pursuits and am instead slumped miserably in my office. One of the by-products of being entrapped by sogginess though has been my rediscovery of the internet – more specifically, the worrying entertainment experienced by perusing a Twitter feed called ‘People Selling Mirrors.’
To the surprise of no one, the page consists of accumulated images of random people trying to take a photograph of a mirror which they wish to sell, and it is, without hint of exaggeration, a gift to our species. Some sellers hide behind doors left slightly ajar whilst others attempt to outflank the mirror. Irrespective of how the photograph is procured, seeing such a mundane activity transpiring into a display of mental and physical gymnastics was enough to pin my eyes to the screen (and thankfully away from the moisture oozing down the window) for almost half an hour.
Having said that, People Selling Mirrors is pointless. Nonetheless, it is stored alongside goods like video games about farming or the light at the bottom of my kettle which ceases to illuminate the water in a soothing blue colour when it has boiled in a mental folder labelled ‘pointless, but inoffensive.’ Yes, it serves no purpose to the world and that kettle could perhaps have driven me less deeply into a pit of financial ruination without that feature, but I am pleased that it exists.
Predictably, though, there is another compartment of pointlessness nestled nearby wherein more offensive, annoying or downright nefarious specimens are stored. Chief among them, I insist, are the speed limits in modern Britain.
Now before I set off, let me clarify that I am in no way protesting the restrictions in inner cities where there are schoolchildren and high-density traffic in the daytime and drunkards stumbling their way home at night – in urban areas, the limits are generally justified and receive my support. What I refuse to accept however is the government imposing arbitrary speed limits on the thousands of miles of stunning rural roads and motorways where there are no schoolchildren or inebriated teenagers to plough into.
Of course, the health and safety boffins in the Department for Transport usually offer the same argument from behind the security of their moustaches: driving fast is dangerous. I understand how this is alluring, so if it seems reasonable, let me try to convince you otherwise.
In 1964 the motorways of Britain were unlimited, so a Le Mans racing team chose to test a protype of their car on the M1, registering a speed of 185mph. In response, the government, seemingly under the impression that everyone owned a motor racing team, introduced the 70mph limit which has remained unchanged ever since.
Surely the explanation for a speed limit is that if we drive too quickly, we will be unable to slow down in time for any hazards which may leap out from in front of the bonnet. So, if the 70mph limit was appropriate for the 1960s and the stopping distance of the average family car has halved in the sixty years between then and now, why are we still forced to trundle along on roads which could easily accommodate us at well over 100mph?
The same is true for the idyllic rural roads which meander through the countryside. In a particularly lovely car at nine o’clock in the evening when there is no one around for dozens of miles, going around an exciting corner and feeling the car squirming at the edge of adhesion delivers the same overwhelming pleasure as seeing an especially attractive man at the local gay bar – being deprived of this simply because some bureaucrat believes the sky will fall in if anyone were to corner above 30mph is as unnecessary as it is insulting. More than that, it abdicates us all of the personal responsibility that we have for our own actions.
Think about it carefully. The roads are not some reincarnation of the Soviet planned economy where everyone knows their place and merely obeys the commands bellowed by an apparatchik in the Kremlin’s basement. Instead, they are dynamic, creative and vibrant. They demand individuals accommodate the expected behaviour of others into their decisions and move around freely, only curtailed by their peers, not a higher authority. In the same way that no one reverses along a motorway because it is illegal, no one would suddenly drive at 100mph around the M25 at rush hour just because the limit was lifted or try to set a land speed record in their Peugeot during the commute on a snowy December morning.
We could – and should – move from place to place more rapidly than we currently do. Whereas the car of the 1960s was an uninspiring, unsafe, noisy affair which took longer to stop than an oil tanker, the modern car is a refined experience soaked in countless technological assists to prevent the driver doing anything silly. They brake faster, corner better and envelop the occupants in a cocoon of safety even if something goes awry. In a world where time is more precious than ever before, we must end the war on the motorist and release the car from its stranglehold by laughably low limits – after all, it’s not as if we really obey them now anyway.
George Wright (Political Officer, Ex-Secretary, Former Deputy Returning Officer, Ex-Treasurer, Ex-Whip, Ex-Committee Member, St John’s College) is an undergraduate in his second year of studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.