The Last Million Mile Men

It’s scary to think how much driving I’ve done in over 50 years since the late sixties. Probably not quite a million miles (that would be 20000 miles per annum), but getting well towards that. That’s about 28000 hours, assuming a probable average speed around 35mpg, or around 3500 average 8-hour days. So that’s nearly 10 years of possibly productive time devoted to driving.

There must be many of mine and the next generation who will ‘achieve’ the million miles over their lifetime. No wonder we have a problem with global warming and pollution! Now, driving is not unpleasant, but what could I have achieved in all that time spent driving?

But it is clear that these generations will be the last million mile men. The technologies are converging fast and change will happen fast – just as horses and carriages were supplanted by the motor car within a decade or so at the start of the twentieth century. Electric vehicles, order on demand and automated driving are inevitable. Only the rich and people in sparsely populated areas will bother to own cars – until driving is banned on many roads for safety reasons.

Just think of the advantages – unpolluted towns and cities, no hassle of car ownership, an end to 1.25 million global traffic deaths per year (WHO-2013), reclaiming of the suburban front garden for plants and wildlife, a new mobility for the old and disabled, the opportunity to work or read while travelling… Of course, there will be problems, like hacking could take in a whole new dimension of crime – but these should be soluble. In the end, economics should force the change.

Well, yes but… There is now that unpredictable variable of climate breakdown, with extreme weather events becoming ever more frequent. Those who can afford it may just like to hang on to their motor vehicles, just in case… But they won’t be million mile men.

PS Before feminists complain, I would say that I am using ‘man’ in its old sense to refer to both genders. It would spoil the alliteration to add ‘and women’ to the title.
And I know I haven’t considered truckers, the ten million mile men!

UK Driver Attitude Problem?

Coming back to the UK after a spell in Houston, Texas, I am once again struck by the different attitudes of drivers in the UK and US, when it comes to pedestrians.

The contrast could not be more vivid. In US residential areas you only have to think about crossing the road and drivers will slow down and wait to see if you cross. In the UK such courtesy is rare. More often, drivers insist on their right of way and force the pedestrian to wait, even when it is raining.

And it seems to be getting worse, particularly at the supposed safe haven of the zebra crossing. Many drivers accelerate as they approach the crossing, daring the pedestrian to step onto it, and only stop if they do so. Timid pedestrians are just left waiting as the car gleefully flashes by.

Similarly, at the entry to a garage forecourt where cars have to cross the public pavement, driver courtesy is sometimes strangely lacking as they thrust forward in that relatively invulnerable tin box. I was once loudly tooted at for walking too slowly across such a pavement in the rain.

At the end of the day, two-way courtesy is what makes society work, particularly on a small island such as Britain. We’ve all been there – in a hurry, late for an appointment, busy day… – the temptation is there, but the present is what matters, and that pedestrian is a person of real flesh and blood, someone’s child, mother, grandma… Inconsiderate drivers need to wake up.

Who’d have thought Americans would be giving lessons to Brits on good manners?

Driving in France

Somehow it got to be over 40 years since we first drove to France, and being francophiles we’ve done that most years since then. The driving experience has changed somewhat!

It’s the early 1970s. We arrive at Dover for the cross channel ferry. The time waiting on the dockside is busy – cleaning the headlamps, putting on beam deflector stickies, then applying yellow paint to the glass. All headlamps had to be yellow in France, a law designed in wartime to distinguish French civilian vehicles, but retained until reversed by EU conformity standards in 1993.

There was a magic in sailing away from the White Cliffs and seeing the French coast gradually coming into view, followed by the unfamiliarity of driving on the right.

The most scary part was knowing that French drivers treated priorité a droite as a sacred right and, particularly within towns, would zoom out from any old side road without even looking. It was easy to forget, and the odd fright ensued.Read More »

Lost our way?

A depressing experience the other day. We stopped off at Sedgemoor services, southbound on the M5 motorway, for a break.

This service station has often provided a refreshing break point over the years – pleasant parking interspersed with trees, albeit rather crowded at busy times. The Tesco-style facility buildings were hardly the height of architectural elegance, but didn’t grate.

Now Sedgemoor has been redeveloped, as the signs proudly announced. The new parking area offers excellent spacious parking spaces, and there the plus points end. The new car park is all tarmac with marked spaces. All trees and bushes removed. Not a living thing remains. Maintenance costs presumably reduced to zero, apart of course from the run-off when it rains – in a part of Somerset recently affected by major flooding. What a testament to our society’s ever-increasing disconnection from the natural world. Had it not occurred to the planners that connection with nature provides refreshment on a long drive just as much as loos, food and drink?

And then there are the buildings. A huge Macdonalds ad defaced the side of the old buildings, which appear to be abutted by breeze block boxes. Aesthetics and any consideration of beauty were clearly not part of the brief, which appears to have been ‘cheapest to make and maintain’. Had it not occurred to the planners that beauty provides refreshment on a long drive just as much as loos, food and drink?

Money was invented as a means to an end. The modern form of capitalism appears to have made money an end in itself. If your sole aim is to make money you will do things in the most utilitarian fashion, unless other values are involved. Costs incurred, such as those due to increased water run-off, more accidents due to less rested drivers, increasingly precarious pockets of nature,… are externalised – someone else’s problem.

We see the resulting loss of connection with nature and with beauty everywhere, exemplified by this development of Sedgemoor.