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(This is a letter I wrote to Headlight in reply to an article by someone who doesn't even drive lorries, who said that limiters were a good thing.)

Dear Sir, 

Reg Dawson's article defending speed limiters against the attack in February's Headlight by David Kinchin seems to be missing most of the points.

Firstly, he cites "blatant breaking of the speed limit" by a few drivers. Yes, we've all seen these people, and they need stopping, but you don't need to limit everyone to 56 to stop a few lunatics doing 80. Limiters ignore the fact that it is possible to drive safely above 56 mph, and to drive badly below 56 mph. As for tailgating, limiters don't prevent it. You can still tailgate anything which is doing 55mph or less. I find that I am being forced into tailgating if I need to overtake anything on the motorway these days. It used to be possible to accelerate out into lane two well before the vehicle you wanted to overtake, pass it quickly so as to minimise time spent in the middle lane, then pull back in and slow down again to cruising speed. With a limiter, though, you have two choices. You either pull out well before the slower vehicle, then spend ages obstructing lane two while you pass it, or you get closer to the slower vehicle than normal so as to minimise time spent out in the middle. Either option is undesirable, but this is being caused by limiters. Deliberate aggressive tailgating certainly needs to be stopped, but I thought that's why we had all those Range Rovers with the red stripes?

Next, we come to the involvement of the EU in this. The sarcasm which Reg Dawson mentions in David Kinchin's article seems to be catching, because he becomes sarcastic himself. I don't think David Kinchin is referring to the list of things quoted. I think he is more likely to have in mind such brilliant EU regulations as cabotage, (which will probably cost British drivers jobs, as well as making the roads more dangerous), or the interpretation of the hours regulations which mean you can do nearly nine hours driving with only 15 minutes break in the middle, which was imposed on us by the EU. (Yes, imposed. If the British Government had agreed with it, I don't think they'd have fought it in the European Court.) Or perhaps he was thinking of the milk quota system, (which means that in 1993 we had to import 92,000 tons of milk, while British farmers were going out of business because they weren't allowed to sell the milk they could produce), or the attempt to make us abandon our 13amp electric plugs in favour of the inferior 2-pin foreign ones, or even the much publicised efforts to ban curved bananas. The list goes on. And if our Government are such willing parties to the 53mph setting, why have they set our limiters to the absolute maximum they can get away with under the EU directives?

While we're on the subject of the EU, the accident statistics for European countries make interesting reading. In 1992, per 100,000 of population the British killed 8 in road accidents, (by 1994 that had dropped to 6.7). No other European country had a lower rate than us. The Germans killed 12, the French killed 17, and the Portuguese killed an amazing 34. Why are we allowing countries with a far worse accident record than us to dictate our road safety policies?

Statistics suggest that a British lorry on a Motorway is the safest vehicle in Europe, perhaps even the world. Given the traffic density in this country, and the antics of some of the motorists we share the road with, this can only be due to the skill and vigilance of the drivers. Speed limiters cause that vigilance to be eroded. This can only be a bad thing.

Now, we come to the "more difficult area of opinion". Reg Dawson says that he has "seen no sign of these convoys", and that truck drivers "can't stick boringly to the truck in front at a steady 56mph". Where has he been? I don't know whether Mr. Dawson is an HGV driver or not. I am, and I'm obviously using the wrong motorways! I regularly see, and am part of, these 56mph convoys, and as for the second claim, I can produce photocopies of tacho charts showing that I travelled at exactly 56mph for hours at a stretch. Mr. Dawson suggests that "anyone who finds that boring is in the wrong job". It's about as interesting as watching paint dry, so perhaps we're all in the wrong job.

Mr. Dawson makes a very valid point about operators forcing drivers to ignore the hours rules. I'd be the first to agree with him that this is a dangerous practise, and needs stamping out, but it's not really relevant to the argument against speed limiters. A speed limiter causes fatigue and loss of concentration well before 4.5 hours driving is up. In my present job I'm so far inside the hours regs that they hardly affect me at all, but I spend most of the night bored into a stupor. Even law-abiding drivers, well inside their hours, are suffering from fatigue and tiredness because of their limiters. Other than give them a mug of cocoa and read them a story, I can't see what else we could do to send lorry drivers to sleep.

Finally, Mr. Dawson says he'd "be astonished if less than 75 percent of the general public were in favour of speed limiters". Well, prepare to be astonished. I have spoken to many car drivers about limiters, and explained the problems they cause. Few had even heard of speed limiters until I mentioned them, so I don't think there has been much of a public outcry demanding that they be fitted. Hardly any were in favour of limiters. Most were extremely worried about the effects of limiters. Car drivers don't really like us, but they like the idea of us falling asleep on the motorways even less. This can help us in the fight against limiters, because, as Mr. Dawson says, anyone who thinks politicians are going to ignore public opinion on that sort of scale is living in a dream world.

 

PUBLISHED IN "HEADLIGHT", APRIL 96.

© Copyright 1996

I've driven this vehicle on a regular run with and without a speed limiter, (sometimes on alternate days, because the limiter sometimes didn't work), and I was much more tired on the days when the limiter was working.