With inquests and potential court cases pending I have to be careful not to speculate about the details, but at the risk of sounding old fashioned, it seems to me that people don’t pay enough respect to other road users these days.
I know I spend more time at retirement do’s and funerals than at weddings and christenings*, so clearly I am getting on a bit. I like to think I’m young at heart and certainly I’m still trying to work out what to do when I ‘grow up’. However, I have noticed that that I don’t drive as fast as I used to when I was in my twenties and thirties. My big breakthrough in calming down on the road occurred thanks to the M62. I commuted to Preston for ten years and learnt that: 1 there is nothing you can do about a traffic jam you’re in; and 2 the Irwell valley in Manchester (junction 15-17) is known locally as the ‘Valley of Death’.
But even when I was driving too fast, I calculated how far above the speed limit I could go and stuck to my own, totally unofficial and illegal, speed limit (I hope I’m not going to get arrested for this confession by the way). What I didn’t do was see how fast my car could go, especially not on residential streets, or to ‘impress’ anyone who might be watching.
It’s not clear that that particular behaviour of boy racers (and they do all seem to be male) played a part in any of the fatalities, but I suspect speed may have played a part. Apart from anything else, the faster you are going the shorter your reaction time. I remember a friend learning to drive and exclaiming “You mean I’ve got to watch every other silly bugger as well as control my car?” Yes, yes you have.
We got back from holiday the other week to find our street blocked by two mangled cars and police tape. One car had clearly been coming out of a side street, fortunately no one was injured. The other three accidents have all been reported in South Leeds Life: an elderly couple turning right into the Co-op; a head on collision with an HGV on Middleton Grove; and a dispute between a driver and a pedestrian on Lady Pit Lane.
One positive step is the increasingly widespread introduction of 20 mph speed limits on residential streets, including my own. Whenever I’ve heard this discussed the consensus (or is it just the loudest person in the room?) seems to be: they are pointless, no one sticks to them and the police don’t enforce them.
As I write this I can hear cars on my street clearly driving faster than 20 mph, but I’m more optimistic than the consensus. Some people stick to them. I do for one and with the number of parked cars on our streets no one’s going to overtake me. The police don’t enforce the limit? Given the scale of traffic, we would have to massively increase the police force to make any impact and speaking for myself, I don’t want to live in a police state.
Two things are in our favour however. Time and the spread of the zones. Time because people have habits to break and that takes time. It’s not so long ago that drivers didn’t wear seatbelts and thought nothing of driving to, and more to the point back from the pub. That’s no longer acceptable, attitudes have changed, expectations have changed.
Which brings me on to my next point. The spread of the 20 mph zones will change people’s expectations. It won’t be an aberration that the speed limit has suddenly gone down to 20, or that you need to remember to slow down near the school. It will become normal for a residential street to have a 20 mph limit.
Calderdale Council is rolling out 20 mph zones across all residential streets in their area. Leeds has decided not to take a blanket approach, but I’m hopeful that we will see more and more of them.
One last thing on policing. I would love to have a go on one of those community speed camera things. I don’t want to prosecute anyone, just to point out what speed drivers are doing and get the message over that as a resident, I am not happy with speeding cars on my street. Can I have a go on one, can I?
I’ll be back in next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.
*Other naming ceremonies are available.