On the road: Speedy thinking
The only thing that even faintly amuses me about Steve Harley (of popular beat combo Cockney Rebel fame) being fleeced to the tune of £1,000 for driving at 70mph in a temporary 40mph restriction is news of his subsequent re-entry into the Top 40 charts.
For those of you who have been visiting distant relatives on another planet, his plight was mentioned on the Top Gear televisual feast recently, with the suggestion that we should all promptly download the song Come Up and See Me, each such action awarding Mr Harley 49p.
This duly happened. In spades. Assuming he doesn't have to share with the band, just 2,041 people needed to download the ditty to make him smile again. Last time I checked, the song was at number 25, and still rising. I know record sales aren't what they used to be, but I suspect a deal more than 2,000-odd people will have dug not particularly deep to effect such a strong second showing for the 63-year-old one-hit-wonder.
At every other level, and attendant to the news that more than 300 miles of our motorways will now marry stealth cameras to variable speed limits, this story merely highlights how far from the thin end we have already advanced up the speed camera ubiquity wedge…
Now, I know I'm not alone in revelling in quick driving when conditions allow, such as early on a summer morning on the A9 in Scotland. Indeed, Police Scotland's own figures suggest that, until lately, no less than one in three drivers of that glorious stretch of tarmac approached it with entirely the same attitude.
The expensive installation of average speed cameras has, of course, now closed off that little avenue of pleasure, as a colleague recently discovered. His brief foray into a suit and tie as a result of attaining over 120mph in a car entirely fit for purpose cost him a hefty fine, an 18-month ban, and his job. Clearly, only a remarkable degree of self-restraint prevented Police Scotland from tossing the key into the nearest loch.
Don't get me wrong; average speed cameras have their place, such as the outskirts of Northampton. But the problem with a camera (blatant, revenue-raising installation beside some windswept rural carriageway aside) is that it cannot discriminate between fast driving and bad driving, something at which our largely enlightened constabulary usually excels. Unless of course, you're on the receiving end of a police motorcycle moustache (What is it about nose voles with that lot? Are they mandatory?), in which case no amount of contrite shoe gazing will help.
Whilst my issue with average speed cameras, and indeed Gatsos, is largely in their location, then, the variable speed limit offerings such as that which momentarily wiped the smile of Mr Harley's face are another story.
The theory behind limiting speeds at times of congestion is absolutely sound. Sadly, it relies entirely on drivers being able to make progress at a constant speed, troubling neither brakes nor throttle once in the cruise. And this, on an increasingly nationwide basis, we are utterly incapable of doing.
And Mercedes drivers are always the worst offenders. What is it about that silky smooth automatic transmission that makes it impossible for you all to pick a chosen speed, and stick to it? Why must you lunge up behind the car in front like a randy rhino and then jam on the anchors as if surprised to find an obstruction in your path?
Thing is, over-braking behind each badly aimed Mercedes increases incrementally with each car further back in the queue until, inevitably, someone comes to a standstill. Which is why the system merely exacerbates the stop-start congestion it was installed to mitigate, making it all the more frustrating to sit stationary for 10 minutes under a gantry gaily posting a 40mph limit.
Especially on the outside lane of the M25, where you just know that the only genuine impediment to the next 117 miles of hassle-free motoring is mere idiocy. No wonder the hapless Mr Harley took that the rare opportunity to actually drive at a heady 70mph.