Sunday, 11 July 2010

Another Highway Robbery.

I have a horrible feeling I may get a brown envelope through my letterbox, and an invitation to pay sixty pounds for a further three points to be enbossed into my driving license. Yes, I'm a naughty boy and a terrible, evil criminal.

Picture the scene. It's Sunday morning, 8:40 am, the good burghers of  East Essex are waking to another balmy summers day. Breakfasts are being initiated and the decision of church versus the beach is probably on several peoples minds. The roads are deserted, shops don't open 'til ten, and hey, it's Sunday. An extra hour in bed won't hurt anyone.

Driving along the seafront I chance upon a sad scene, the road is half blocked by a police car and an ambulance responding to a man laying in the road. I have no idea what the situation is but there are plenty of people in attendance and nothing I can bring to the party, so I carefully pass and continue on my way.

The stretch beyond Clacton seafront is an extremely boring road. There is a chicane before you reach Holland-On-Sea but after that it is wide and completely straight, with houses on the one side and grass on the other. There is parking available all the way along, tourists flock here in the summer months and children play ball and picnic on the greensward, enjoying the view out towards the forty-eight wind turbines. The blanket 30mph speed limit, while annoying, is justifiable on the grounds of errant kids and sightseers wandering into the road.

This morning, with my mind on the chap laying in the road, I was on autopilot a bit. I was also conscious that nobody was around, no traffic, no parked cars, no pedestrians nor cyclists, no children playing. It was a day for a late morning followed by relaxing in the sun. I saw another ambulance ahead of me, parked outside one of the low-rise developments of flats that are favoured by the elderly in these parts, but I didn't see any customers.

As i drew closer to the ambulance I saw that it said police on it, and that the offside rear door had a window which was open, at which point I suddenly awoke, realising I was driving right up a speed camera. I braked instinctively, probably too little, too late. I hadn't been going too fast, had I? I know I was doing more than 30, I had had to brake down to that speed. This is when I started to feel cross.

This is a road with a split personality. It can be absoltely heaving at certain times, camper-vans and people carriers jostling for position while disgorging their sunseeking cargoes. But at other times it can be desolate. Breakfast time on Sunday morning, for example.

What the police were doing this morning was enforcing the law, not exercising common sense. This morning they will make an absolute packet ticketing drivers who are bored rigid doing 30mph on a road with no traffic and no pedestrian hazards. These drivers won't even be consciously speeding, their velocities will have simply drifted up to what feels like a natural pace for those sort of conditions, fine weather, no traffic, open road.

It gets on my nerves that I have never seen a camera van there when conditions dictate it would be a good idea. Mid afternoon on a sunny Saturday, for example, when bikinis are everywhere and the local big-stereo brigade are doing high-speed circuits of the town centre.

The police are failing here. The message that it is "for our own protection" is looking decidedly wafty and the driving population are rapidly running out of patience. Yes, speeding is an offence, we shouldn't do it. We shouldn't lie, either, that's also offensive. Could the police be seen as dishonest with their policy of police-camera siting?

An accident blackspot justifies a speed camera, no question, but cameras are increasingly placed where speeding is likely, not necessarily hazardous. At the bottom of hills or where a sixty limit turns into a thirty, or towards the end of a long straight road are all lucrative location for police revenue generating machines.

I would have welcomed a police presence me this morning. The officer would have been able to stop me, advise me of the speed limit and exercise discretion on whether to prosecute or not. Most policemen are reasonable enough, I suspect he would have issued a warning which would have shocked me into driving more slowly, or at least concentrating more. Certainly for the rest of the day.

A static camera is unable to make any form of judgement, only a digital, yes/no, tick-box answer; speeding or not speeding.  They are also unable to catch people who persist in driving like dickheads, by which I mean inconsiderately, not just quickly. I would like to see more unmarked cars actively seeking people who undertake, tailgate, queue-barge and speed at really take-the-piss levels.

I look forward to sending off my sixty quid and recieving my three points. Unfortnately for us, for her majesty's finest, points mean prizes.