JOHN BATTLE MP
PERHAPS not the first place we'd look to for Gospel exhortations would be the Department of Transport's "Driving Manual". Yet in the recently-published version of the manual, drivers are urged to make allowances for the aggression and mistakes of other drivers on the road by "turning the other cheek".
It's an exhortation, I confess, I personally need to take to heart. Though I travel between home in Leeds and Parliament by train as much as possible, the occasional trip up and down the M1 does enough to fray the nerves for weeks.
. But it's the shorter runs out and about in the constituency and in and out of the city centre that are becoming the real problem.
Not only has there been a recognisable increase in the volume of vehicles on the roads in the last decade, but traffic also tends to move much faster than 30mph or 40mph speed limits.
Fast get-aways from junctions and lights, cutting in and sharp braking seem a must for mobile survival.
Regular expressions of thrusting individualism first to the front, refusal to give way, publicly expressed impatience are all crucial to keeping up and getting there.
In this fiercely competitive environment, aggression, anger and outright abusive violence are becoming the order of the day.
The car itself is being transformed into a self-contained context for aggressive individualism so much so that a bus journey now takes on the character of blessed relaxed relief.
But if the car is developing into an instrument of inhuman personal development, it is also being underestimated as a lethal weapon. Recently three young people were killed and two seriously injured in a collision in my constituency the latest in a long series of lethal accidents as a result of young men stealing cars, often without licences or any experience of handling the vehicles they steal. , The cult (and misnomer) of "joy riding" fails to appreciate that a car is potentially a lethal machine, and needs handling with extreme care and attention.
Focussing all the recrimination on the criminal behaviour of young hooligans is not enough. But try asking questions about cars, and their sales and production, and you'll quickly be ruled off limits.
In response to local neighbourhood concerns about the high rate of serious accidents resulting from "joy riding", it was suggested that cars should carry a government health warning as "potentially lethal weapons".
Why could there not be government adverts such as those about drugs, alcohol or smoking, warning of the potential dangers of automobiles?
One of the reasons is that in
the same newspapers reporting and editorially attacking "joyriders" are full-page "motoring" advertising supplements extolling the virtues of the latest models: turbo engines give more boost; the new engine is a big improvement with a manual gearbox the top speed is 127mph; accelerating from 0-60mph takes 10 seconds, with boosted power for overtaking.
More worryingly, car sales are increasingly being used as a key economic indicator. The measure of whether Britain is or is not emerging from recession is set against the litmus test of whether monthly car sales are on an upward or downward trend.
Last March was the 30th consecutive month that car sales declined and car manufacturers were desperately pointing out to the government that the reduced sales meant a loss of £2.5 billion in tax revenue to the Exchequer.
In other words, the Government needs the income of car sales to balance public expenditure. Little wonder that car adverts cannot be challenged to do that may be fundamentally to undermine the economy. Irresponsible youngsters must be made to fit into this economic logic if necessary by punitive measures.
Given this economic logic, there seems little hope, internationally, that the number of cars will do other than continue to increase. Gas-guzzling motors in the Unted States will continue to use up inordinate amounts of fuel energy, to pump out more carbon dioxide than the rest of the world put together and contribute massively to the environmentally destructive global warming.
In a U.S. Presidential election year, a carbon tax is unconscionable. Nor is the present British government prepared to use strong fuelpricing measures as a means of reducing private car usage.
There is a clear parallel with the arms industry destructive production, knowingly continued because the real challenges of alternative work and ways of living together are not faced up to. I never imagined that -turning the other cheek" would come to mean "It's better by bus."