Freak speeds

One of the great bugbears of modern discourse is the sense that people of power and influence – politicians, journalists – are exactly the wrong people to have opinions about motoring offences such as speeding. I’ve long felt that certain driver behaviours are as anti-social as anything captured under the old ASBO legislation (noise, public drunkenness, pissing in fountains, littering, graffiti), but the usual “steal a little and they throw you in jail / steal a lot and they make you king” rules always apply. 

Journalists reporting about politicians doing things that journalists also often do is the perfect storm of Metropolitan Elites. Talk about your Westminster Bubble.

People who park wherever they please because it suits them: on pavements, close to junctions, on double yellows – are doing more damage to the environment in which we live than litterers and drunks and paint sprayers — as are people who drive at 30 in a 20 zone or 40 in a 30 zone etc. Cars ruin cities. Cars ruin towns. Cars ruin villages.

But the tenor of the coverage of Useful Idiot Suella Braverman’s attempts to weasel out of her speed awareness course has been along the lines of, why all the fuss? Or, worse, we’ve all done it, nobody would care.

I say worse because I hate being lumped in with all those people who clearly routinely break the speed limit and accept the punishment as the cost of doing business. Even Zoe Williams in the Guardian, a writer I have a lot of time for, blithely describes the hell-is-other-people nature of the speed awareness course and does indeed suggest that ‘everyone’ has been in one, and that because everyone is lost inside their own personal hell, nobody would have clocked Braverman, had she attended. Williams writes,

I’m convinced that everyone with a driving licence has done one but nobody admits it because of the shame, though not of the speeding itself, which people find pretty easy to forgive themselves for.

Ugh. Here’s where we part company. Because in 40 years of driving – touch wood, white rabbits – I’ve never had a speeding ticket. Or a parking ticket. Because I don’t need a speed awareness course to inform me that speeding doesn’t get you “there” any faster. And because – crucially – I am always aware of my speed when I drive.

But now the world is full of opinion columnists telling us that Braverman’s weaselling is the least of our problems, that her speeding is no big deal. Everybody does it, nobody cares. And, as always, I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness because I always think this stuff – like the expenses claims for biscuits, like the purloined dressing gown – says more about the true character of our politicians than any number of speeches ripped from the pages of Mein Kampf for Dummies.

We’re back in the territory of journalists who are guilty of the same thing a politician has been caught doing telling us that we’ve all done it and it’s no big deal.

I’ve written before about how exasperated I get when I see people drive up to the school gates next to us because they are blindly following the sat nav directions in Waze or Apple maps. First of all, why is nobody (nobody else, I mean) telling the fucking app that the road into the school – where the school buses come to drop kids off – is not a through road, a short cut, to the main road on the other side? And, second of all, why do people think it is at all acceptable to follow a “rat run” route through a neighbourhood where people live with their children and pets? To save – wait for it – three minutes. And why on earth is software programmed to suggest a saving of three minutes, which is neither here nor there?

It’s that kind of magical thinking – you could save three minutes if you drive through this neighbourhood and don’t kill a pet – that sits behind the tailgaters and the speeders on the road. It’s seven o’clock in the morning, and you’re trying to get to work four minutes quicker? Please.

And I know there’s other stuff going on there. People like driving fast, like the feeling of mastery they get, fancy themselves as good drivers. All that ego stuff is going on too. Christ, just read a column in a motoring magazine to get a sense of how these people think.

But all of that, wrapped up in a bow, is why I think a politician’s speeding does matter – before you get to the weaselling part. There’s the irrationality of speeding: a failure of reason which goes along with irrational political and economic views. Capitalism! Brexit! Talk about your magical thinking. Then there’s my favourite human trait: the I’m-too-busy-and-important person who puts their immediate needs ahead of all others and will therefore park in a disabled spot, on a pavement, in front of the school gates, and drive too fast because they’re always running late and always in a hurry. Sociopathy, in other words.

And then there’s the ego. The kind of people who think it’s okay for them to drive fast because they’re good at it. Or because (as an ex-friend said to me once) “It was a clear road on a dry night”. There aren’t enough eye-roll emojis in the world. The world is not your race track. There’s a reason Boris Johnson is sometimes compared to Toad of Toad Hall.

And then there are the angry people. The people who have such an inner rage at their life and the world that they press the foot down and drive like a cartoon character because it’s the only time they feel like they have control. Ha! Take back control! Why does that ring a bell?

In other words, speeding = Tories, Brexit, capitalism, racism… all the bad things. 

And getting caught speeding and trying to weasel out of the consequences? Yeah.

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