You are what you drive

Motorway scene

photo credit: IMG_5145 via photopin (license)

Speed limits are curious things.

Most people would agree that having speed limits is necessary for the safety of road users and pedestrians. However, most people also act as though they believe that limits should be advisory, and that they should have the right to ignore them when they see fit, which with 30 and 40 mph limits in particular, is most of the time. Most people also seem to regard being caught for speeding as a kind of tax, and therefore inherently unfair, rather than “fair cop, you got me bang to rights”.

I like to think I am one of the more law-abiding drivers in this country. Having left my youth behind, I seem also to have left behind that urgency that requires every last second behind the wheel to be saved by over-fast driving. In general, I try to respect speed limits.

This frequently earns me the disrespect of my fellow drivers. I know several places where speeding is so rife, that to drive at the speed limit causes irritation to the point of danger. There is one stretch near my home, with a 30 limit, where if you drive at that speed, people try so hard to overtake it becomes dangerous – I’ve even had fists waved at me. If you attempt to drive at the regulation 50 over the Dartford bridge, you will be the only one doing less than 70.

However, I would like to confess that there is one place where I am inclined to, ah, shade the limit. This is on motorways. I usually try to limit myself to 80 here, however, which gives me an opportunity to observe fellow limit breakers or respecters. I think I can perceive a pattern to how fast folks drive.

At 80mph you overtake some vehicles, but get overtaken by some others. Now I think that there are some types of vehicle which are more likely to overtake you than be overtaken – that is to say, is more likely to be travelling even faster than 80. Let me give you a race order.

In fifth place, we have 4x4s. I understand that they are big cars, so you perhaps feel safer at speed than in an ordinary family saloon; yet 4x4s are also inclined to be the cars at the top of the list of those most likely to overtake you for obeying an urban speed limit.

In fourth place I would put small tradesmen’s vans (especially if white). I think the reason is that many plumbers and builders in vans are young men who are HiTLIQs (‘High Testosterone Low IQ’) who tend to drive too fast anyway.

Equal in third would be BMW and VW, second Mercedes, and the clear number one is Audi. I think pretty well everything else is as likely to be overtaken as to overtake you when you are travelling at 80 mph. Interestingly, that seems to include sports cars such as Porsches and Ferraris.

What is it about German cars? And especially Audis – I can’t remember ever overtaking an Audi (except one on a car transporter); indeed, some that overtake you aren’t just going a bit above 80…

Either Audis and Mercedes are built so that you feel encouraged to drive them fast once you are behind the wheel, or there is something about them which particularly appeals to the kind of motorist who is predisposed towards speeding. Maybe it is both: the German heritage of no speed limits on the autobahns leads to the development of cars which are comfortable and feel safe cruising at high speed, and so drivers who want to drive fast also gravitate in that direction. (Incidentally, that also includes motorway police forces!)

Now I haven’t included motorcycles, but they are worthy of special mention. There is the odd one who cannot resist attempting the land speed record, but mostly they are sensible until traffic slows below 70, at which point they all become suicidal undertakers and lane weavers. It scares me sometimes watching a motorcyclist accelerating through a gap barely four feet wide, between a car and a lorry both travelling at 60mph.

Now I know this is hardly a scientific study – I don’t exactly feel inclined to make notes as I drive along the motorway, and if I asked my wife to make notes for me, I’d be laughed out of court – but I feel there is plenty of casual observation that supports this.

Anyway, I will continue to limit my modest road transgressions to mild motorway excesses and wait for public opinion to turn against immoderate urban speed. Eventually I believe that it will, as it has against drink driving, but I feel it could be a long wait!

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