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Monday, September 23, 2002
Several days ago, I lent Hector, my beautiful horse, to one of those lovely people converging on London over the weekend to protest about the government's attitude to hunting with dogs. I had given the staff several days off so that they, too, could join the protest. Am I not the most generous employer in the whole World?
While driving myself at 70 m.p.h., in the centre lane of a local motorway, I observed the following series of events. A large, foreign lorry, travelling at about 50 m.p.h. in the inside lane, indicated the intention to pull out, but it did not immediately change lanes, presumably waiting for the overtaking traffic to clear. Beside it, some way in front of me, in the centre lane, a Mercedes, travelling at about the same speed as I, lurched away to the right.
Having lurched wildly to one side, the Mercedes lurched back to the left again then to the right then to the left then to the right again until the driver lost control completely. At high speed, it crashed into the side of an overtaking vehicle (an m.p.v., I think), travelling at about 85 m.p.h. (tut tut) in the right hand lane. This vehicle was pushed violently into the central reservation crash barrier and the Mercedes pirouetted to a stop in front of me. As far as I could see, the Mercedes's tyres remained inflated throughout. Pieces of car were flying everywhere. I managed to avoid the mess - mine was the first vehicle to pass the wreckage. The motorway was almost completely blocked. Both cars were certain write-offs.
I immediately telephoned the police and reported the accident. Subsequent enquiries revealed that there had been no injuries - a tribute to modern vehicle design, safety belts (and laws) and, most importantly, to central reservation crash barriers.
The incident can only be attributed to driver error: the Mercedes driver moved the steering wheel far too much for the speed of his/her vehicle. It makes me worry how much our safety on the roads depends on others.
It was announced last week that the driving test is soon to include a driver's reaction to a film showing potential hazards. Only if the applicant passes this part will s/he be allowed to take the test proper This is an excellent idea but it should be only the beginning. Drivers need to understand what happens in extremis, too. It is wrong for new drivers to be able to pass a test at 20 or 30 m.p.h., then to be let loose on roads where they can drive at 70 m.p.h. Please Mr Blunkett, as soon as possible, add high-speed driving and an understanding of roadholding to the driving test, too.
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