When my father was born the motor car was in its infancy. Most people didn’t have their own car, they walked, cycled used buses and trains to get around. Now alas, we’ve moved to a situation where it is assumed that everyone – with a few weird exceptions – will have a driving licence and a car.
This is crazy.
Our roads are overcrowded and the traffic jams get worse by the day. Crimes such as road rage, theft of vehicles, driving uninsured or while banned have all increased. Breaking the speed limit is regarded as a minor misdemenour rather than a crime. The pollution from traffic fumes makes hundreds of people ill and hundreds more are killed or maimed in road traffic accidents.
When will our government – or indeed any government – see that what we need is fewer cars? Cars that go at a sensible speed and most important of all are driven by skilled and careful drivers.
The notion that anyone and everyone should drive. whether they are a doddery old pensioner with failing sight and slowing reflexes or a speed-mad teenager, is totally barmy. I want to see driving regarded as a skilled and specialised job, subject to stringent testing of both physical and mental capacity. Driving should be a high status profession, properly rewarded with a substantial pension on retirement.
In my ideal state most households would not have a car of their own. For short journeys they would walk, cycle or use buses. Once the number of cars is restricted both walking and cycling will be much more attractive as a way of getting about. For medium or long journeys you would hire a driver and an appropriate vehicle.
Most workplaces would have their own (small) pool of drivers. When a middle manager, say, was asked to travel to a meeting in a town 50 miles away he would be allocated a car and a driver. Thus no-one would be expected to do two jobs – one as a manager and a subsidiary one as a driver. In the same way other people who are expected to travel around to visit clients – anything from computer engineers to district nurses – would have a driver to take them to their destination. So they could concentrate on their own speciality fixing computers or nursing rather than devoting a proportion of their time and energy to driving and the associated tasks of route finding, car maintenance, locating parking places etc.
Most short journeys would be by public transport. Buses would need to be frequent, comfortable, reliable and dirt cheap if not free of charge to the passenger. All would need to have at least one other person aboard beside the driver. One reason the present bus services are such a failure is that they use an OMO (one-man operated) system. One person can’t both collect fares, give change, supervise the passengers, announce the stops and drive a large vehicle in busy traffic, It is unfair to expect him to.
Drivers, including bus drivers, would be expected to abstain from alcohol at all times. They would have an annual medical and have to disclose any temporary medical condition that might affect their fitness to drive. They would carry their personal identification, insurance details and driver number whenever they were driving a vehicle. All vehicles would be fitted with speed limiters, and a means of recording driver number and time and distance covered. This should make the job of traffic policing much easier. There would be strict limits on how long an individual could drive without a break. The penalty for infringement of any of these – admittedly draconian – rules would be dismissal and loss of driver status.
Motorways would be reserved for HGV’s and PSV’s. Long distance freight and long distance coaches. There would be compulsory rest breaks every 25 miles and all vehicles would carry a spare driver. One day per week the motorways would be closed for cleaning and minor repairs. One week per quarter for major repairs. The first day of each month the motorways should be reserved for bicycles, with the hard shoulder available for pedestrians.
A fantasy? I fear so. Or a prophecy of what life could be like if we put the car in its proper place as servant not master? I can’t see it happening in my lifetime. Not even if and when the oil supplies run out. I hope I am wrong.