More power, more danger?

I know fast cars don’t kill. I know speed doesn’t kill. It’s the crashing into things that does it. I also know that I can drive my 29bhp Citroen 2CV with more than enough speed to be considered dangerous. And it would be if it went wrong. But the same is true of ANY car.

Certainly, overtaking has many limits attached to it. Even my sprightly 54bhp Sirion makes overtaking feel dangerous enough at times. This is a very good thing! If you’ve got sod all power, you have to be REALLY certain before committing to an overtake. I got it wrong a few weeks back and a car coming the other way had to slow down. Here’s the thing though – I wasn’t travelling that quickly and the mutual speed of everyone involved meant the worst case scenario was a bit of bumped metal and a firm telling off.

If you're going to crash, do it on a race course!

If you’re going to crash, do it on a race course!

Contrast this with the time I owned a 160bhp Citroen BX 16 Valve. This car was absolute lunacy, and the giddy way in which it raced down the road beyond 4000rpm made overtaking super desirable! It was an engine that begged to be thrashed, and responded fabulously well when you did. Surely it was safer to overtake in the BX than the 2CV? After all, the collosal acceleration (30-70mph in just 7.5 seconds) meant you spent less time on the wrong side of the road. The problem was, it wasn’t safer! With astonishing power, the temptation was there to go for risky overtakes that I wouldn’t even consider in the 2CV. And I did. I recall plenty of hairy moments where the addictive power got the better of my common sense. Another problem is that when overtaking, easing off the throttle seems a silly thing to do, so I’d keep my foot in and find myself doing highly illegal speeds in no time. Cornering at the same speeds as my 2CV was dull too, so I’d corner more quickly, which meant a bigger accident was always a possibility. My solution was to sell the BX ASAP and replace it with a much more civilised Rover 414.

But I see this crazed overtaking going on all the time. Modern turbo diesels can be really punchy when it comes to delivering overtaking thrust and I’ve had my fair share of near misses because someone got a bit over ambitious. Fast  roads can be bloody dangerous. This was highlighted only a few days ago. I live very near the A44 which runs from Aberystwyth to Llangurig in mid-Wales. It’s one of the most dangerous roads in Wales. Endless tight bends, restricted visibility and a 60mph (for cars) speed limit which often gets ignored and rarely gets policed. It’s a road that saw 41 collisions between January and August 2012. I drove along there once and found a car on its roof in the middle of the road, and the sides of this route are littered with Police tape and ominous gaps in fences and barriers…

It isn’t an inherently dangerous road in itself. I have plenty of fun driving along it and have never had a problem – all within the speed limit as that’s how I drive. Other people don’t though. They get carried away and go for insanely risky overtakes, or a little too much speed in the bends. The problem is, it isn’t their own life their risking – there’s a very good chance that you will take others with you.

It’s too soon to speculate about what caused the recent horrific crash on the A44. Four members of the same family died and a child was rushed to hospital. It’s horribly tragic. Of course, the tragedy stretches further than that. A truck and a van were directly involved. Even if they carry no responsibility for the crash, the poor drivers must be horribly mentally scarred by what happened, as must the witnesses who were first on the scene. And all the emergency services of course. I don’t care what training you get. It must be difficult to get home after a day at work like that. It’s not speculation to say that human error lead to the smash though. 95% of collisions are due to human error. The chances are, this one was too.

Think about it though. If I’m doing 60mph in the 2CV and a car comes flying past me, it must be travelling at 80mph or more. In a modern car, that feels like you’re barely moving. Until it goes wrong. And it does, because people are simply driving too quickly. Perhaps Sir Alec Issigonis was right. He didn’t like cars to be comfortable and desensitising. He liked drivers to feel like they were actually driving. He’d be horrified at the way people drive today, barely paying attention and, even worse, often checking their phones while driving! I once saw a girl almost crash into a van on a motorway. When we overtook, she was checking her phone. At 60mph. Perhaps she was texting ‘NRLY DIED LOL!’

Crashing is not pretty

Crashing is not pretty

Naturally, there is great anger and upset about this accident. “More should be done,” people cry. “Everyone knows its a dangerous road,” say others. Do they? Really? Perhaps what’s actually needed is signs pointing out that this road claims lives. Or maybe we all need to do more to promote road safety. Being safe on the roads isn’t about driving slowly – I’ve seen plenty of dangerous incidents at low speeds and the vast majority of injuries are sustained on roads with a speed limit of 40mph or below. No, what we need is education. We need to remind people that 60mph is really bloody quick! We need to teach people HOW to overtake, and what the dangers are. I think I’m pretty rare for the fact that I once overtook a car on a driving lesson! (another learner driver, travelling at 40mph in a 60mph limit). I bet very few people try an overtake with tuition.

The biggest danger by far comes from the assumption that all the other vehicles will do what you expect. I’ve seen several incidents where someone has gone to overtake a long line of cars, then almost hit the car at the front, which it turns out was turning right (this is why you should ALWAYS check your mirror before executing a right turn, something I drill into people when minibus training). But just ask yourself. Is it worth the risk? Going at that speed, an accident is going to be messy. Airbags won’t save you if the impact is simply enormous.

The simplest lesson is just be aware. Focus on what’s going on, ignore your phone and perhaps turn the music down (I very rarely listen to any while driving, and never in poor weather or when getting a hoon on). Modern cars can go very briskly with no effort at all, but that doesn’t mean you can sit back and ignore the world around you. Your life, and the lives of others really do depend on you paying attention. Please do so, and stay safe.

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