off road 4x4 suv

Huge vehicles

The Land Rover, the Jeep, the Toyota Land Cruiser. Flagship monster off-road vehicles from Britain, USA and Japan respectively. Very useful for military and agricultural demands, great for towing caravans, hauling cars out of ditches, scaling rough terrain. But who the heck really needs to drive one of these beasts from A to B on Britain’s roads?

I spend approximately an hour and a half most days in the car, and unfortunately, this involves wading through school traffic. I haven’t tried counting yet (I will if I remember), but I guess i must encounter about 30 cars that fall into the SUV/MPV/4×4 category on my way to work.

But are they ever needed?

Aside from speed bumps, rumble strips and perhaps the odd pot hole, I never ever have to face any terrain that is a challenge to a normal car. Over the years I’ve been up and down kerbs in the Midlands, negotiated the steep hills of Yorkshire, and endured the horrendous stop-start gridlock that is London. I’ve carried people, guitar amps, furniture, bikes, bags of shopping etc and sometimes a combination.

The humble hatchback is well-designed for these challenges and does a pretty good job. Why then, do people need a heavy duty vehicle to take little Johnny to school? Why would anyone need to drive a farm vehicle to a supermarket? If Oak Tree Primary were only accessible via a mud track, or if Sainsbury’s was the other side of a mountain; then yes, a heavy utility vehicle is what we all need.

But the road taxes we pay (4×4 drivers a hell of a lot more of course) go towards making our roads as safe and usable as possible, so there aren’t really many scenarios that warrant anything more powerful than a normal car.

SUVs are too big, too thirsty on fuel, too expensive. Although I guess the extra road tax is handy for the roads.

wpid-1327154955823.jpg

Halfords – We Fit

The other week when my tail light needed replacing, I took the lazy option and paid extra to have it fitted for me. Now this is the sort of thing that I would criticise of others, a bit like the McDonald’s Drive Thru which seems to be the height of laziness.

The time I had my tail light fitted was a damp, cold weekday evening, and the fitter was a strapping young man who seemed to know mid-sized hatchbacks like the back of his hand. He fitted it single handedly (although he had two hands and used them both, but there is sadly no such phrase as ‘ double handedly’), whilst also holding a torch. I stood for a few moments and he invited me to leave him to it and retreat to the relative warmth and sanctuary of my car. I politely declined, saying that I wanted to watch and learn.

Today, however, when I needed to replace an indicator, the strapping young man was nowhere to be seen. The cashier said “she’ll be with you in just a minute”, which did not make me feel particularly macho. When a young girl of certainly less than 21 years emerged and referred to me as ‘Sir’, I wondered if I could hide behind a facade of being a posh man with no time for such frivolity. Then I looked down at my scruffy trainers and baggy green corduroy and began to feel sufficiently low enough to walk under a bench with a top hat. I sat in the car listening to Chelsea vs Norwich on 5 Live whilst a girl fitted a bulb for me.

I’m now off to McDonald’s Drive Thru to get a burger for the journey home.

Slow vehicles

Some people walk fast, some walk more slowly. It depends on a list of factors; how able and fit the person is, how pressed they are for time, and simply how they like to walk. It’s something to celebrate, indeed a good perambulation arena is a rich melting pot of strollers, amblers, dawdlers and hurriers. The contrast in speed between an infirm shuffler and a late panicker can of course be huge, but the faster walker is thankfully by definition more able and willing to quickly change course and dash around people; in and out of a crowd.

However, on the roads of Great Britain, we cannot apply the same logic. If you’re driving much slower than the generally accepted speed for the road, you are effectively demanding that everybody do what you do. You’re the pace setter, your speed is the only speed allowed. Everyone must drive the way you do, regardless of their capabilities, time constraints or attention span.

Some people drive slowly, some drive slightly faster. But when the someone drives slowly on a busy road, the only way anyone else can be allowed to drive normally is by overtaking. We know that overtaking can be a dangerous manoevre, but how about the danger of a whole line of traffic wanting to overtake on a single carriageway? Let’s say there’s a 10% chance of endangering others on the road when you overtake out of frustration. If 10 normal* drivers have to swerve around a slow driver you may suggest that there would be a 100% chance of causing danger.

So using these arguments I urge those slow drivers to check their rear view mirror. If there is a snaking queue of traffic behind you and nothing in front of you on your side of the road, this means you are bringing danger to the road.

Happy motoring!

*I deem a normal driver to be one who drives within 20% of the speed limit

P. Hurford 2011