Letter From The UK: Beware The Highway Vigilantes

  • Can community-sponsored traffic enforcement initiates go too far?
  • And where does the money go when it comes to said traffic enforcement? 
  • Geoff Maxted of DriveWrite Automotive Magazine examines in this latest Letter.

Here in the UK, we have a term for people who write to internet forums, newspapers or their local representatives anonymously; we refer to them as ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.’ Royal Tunbridge Wells is a town in the English county of Kent and the ‘Disgusted’ handle stems from an apocryphal story that this was where the first such letter emanated, way back in time. Usually, these writers are not brave enough to give their name yet are often “horrified and disgusted” about something specific, perhaps important to them but far less so to the rest of us.

Dropping litter, for example, to all reasonable people is unpleasant but to some it is a matter of life and death.

Like Dogs With Bones

At this stage, reader, you are probably wondering when this writer is going to get to how this is relevant to automotive issues. Soon, very soon, is the answer, but the point of this is to highlight the fact that once some people get a hold of an issue they are like dogs with bones. They just won’t let it go. Single emotive issues tend to polarise opinion and a sort of swivel-eyed mania takes over those so afflicted. This is especially noticeable here right now, thanks to Britain’s exit from the European Union which has caused a base level of ‘us and them’ nastiness and dissent that is frankly hard to believe among sentient beings. It’s like the Hatfields & McCoys on a national scale. This same monomaniacal intensity of being ‘disgusted’ is also applied to our motoring lives.

Dangerous Polluters

In recent years, Great Britain has seen a rise in the stigmatisation of car use. Motorists, to some, are dangerous polluters who run rampant through town and country with a complete disregard for the residents. This gives rise to strident and virulent complaint and usually both local and national government rapidly cave in to the wishes of these screeching minorities, presumably in the interest of having a quiet life. Thus, there is plenty of road signage and regulation here that is both daft and pointless, and is usually dreamed up by a local official with the IQ of a chicken nugget, who is nevertheless part of the conspiracy against cars.

Clearly though, it is essential we have motoring rules and our crowded road transport system should not be some free-for-all. By and large in today’s conditions, motoring regulations are about 80 percent right, and this is from someone who likes going fast. For example, I have every sympathy with villagers whose tranquillity is disturbed by their through road being used as a rat-run by commuting traffic or has become part of a major route; and also with parents who are concerned by the actions of inattentive drivers near school crossings.

Flaming Torches

The trouble is, this has all given rise to a type of vigilantism that sets neighbour against neighbour. Across the country, certain locals have taken to our pavements and verges with placards and speed cameras (or safety cameras as they are disingenuously called by officialdom) with which they accumulate evidence, subsequently passed to the police for action. They become, in a sense, judge and jury. (The State just wants the money). These people may well have a case but with their single-issue blinkers on can’t see what is actually happening.

Whilst these angry villagers are freezing on street corners, they forget that they have already paid for the police and their local district council to take this sort of action. Surely these folk have a right to expect value for money from their local taxes, because they certainly don’t get it from national taxes? I personally object to ordinary civilians judging what I do. At what point will litter-louts be lynched from the nearest lampposts by baying hordes of passers-by? When will come the day that you are dragged from your car by rabid villagers raising aloft flaming torches, and be forced to listen to a thirty-point list of grievances before the cry goes up, “Somebody get a rope!”

Don’t bet against it.

Making Money From Motoring Misery

Many of our UK roads are in a terrible condition despite the fact every legal driver pays an annual fee colloquially known as ‘Road Tax.’ Meanwhile, although many issues could be solved by traffic calming measures, our authorities prefer to maintain the use of the single-eyed Cyclops of financial pain, the speed camera. Cameras don’t morally censure; they just want the fines they generate. In 2018, our councils trousered some £900 million British Pounds (over 1.1 billion USD) from parking fines and other local and congestion charges. Where does it go?

Although money is tight for many folk, life is too short to be dealing with stuff like this. This is why the public acquiesce; they shrug and move on, muttering darkly. In the old American West of legend, outlaws were hunted down: Here in the 21st Century they take political office. Perhaps we drivers ought to get together and form our own vigilante groups to protect our right to drive cars without forever antagonising the ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.’

Now, where did I put that kerosene?

Geoff Maxted is a motoring writer, photographer, and author of our Letter From The UK series. Follow his work on Twitter: @DriveWrite

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