Monday, January 31

Driving has just got really scary.

This year there will be a lot of very rich families or relatives of squished pedestrians or cyclists.

I think most drivers will recognise the occasions when they have most closely smashed into the rear end of some other vehicle; it's when someone in front of you does something unpredictable. For me, the classic example is, when approaching a roundabout, you see a car a little further ahead of you, waiting to pull out. You glance to the right and see that there is likely to be a gap in the traffic and your brain says that the car in front will have started off on to the roundabout. You glance back. It hasn't. Your brain got it wrong. He didn't move. He still could go but doesn't. That glance to the right may have taken no more than a second, probably significantly less, but at 60mph you're doing 88 feet per second. Even at a modest and undoubtedly legal 30 you'll cover more than 40 feet in that time. I don't know the stopping distance at 60mph or 30mph but I wouldn't be surprised if it's a lot more and you're so ruddy lucky if you don't smash into the back side of that car.

I fear that we're going to be having a lot more of these scary moments. The law has changed. Now some one walking or riding a horse, bike or motorbike will be able to assume priority in crossing a road at a junction. So you may be coming up to a left turn and, whereas before you'd be entitled to expect that the people on the path, or cyclists coming up to cross the road into which you're turning, would look and see you indicating and wait until you've passed. Now they don't need to do that because you, driving the car, are expected to look and see who might be about to cross that road and stop to allow them to do so. Whereas you in your car are pretty easy to spot - probably one vehicle, with a flashing orange light and in a position that looks very much as though you're going to turn, and probably doing a respectable 29.5 mph too and so likely to squish a person or cyclist in any impact - the pedestrian, of which there could be several, especially in a busy town high street, or cyclist, weaving between the people, bushes, lamp posts and trees are much, much more difficult to spot or, indeed, predict. They won't squish you or cause any harm other than a scratch to the paintwork or a small dent. It's pretty damn normal to assume that those likely to be squished will take a bit of care and do their best to avoid getting squished.

Now, it seems, overnight. It's all reversed. Those pedestrians and cyclists can simply carry on their way, crossing roads without a care in the world. And if they are squished, they or their families get rich as it'll be your fault as the motorist. Your insurance will pay massive sums and we'll all get bigger motor insurance premiums next year.

Not only that but if you do approach that junction carefully, look as best you can for any signs of pedestrian or lycra-clad life and do suddenly spot the possibility that a girl on a skate board might just make it to the kerb before you arrive and slam on the brakes then I'm going to be the poor sod behind you and it'll be my fault and you'll get your car repaired and the skater kid will be far away by the time we get our mobile phones out.

So all those walkie-talkie people chatting about wine, women or whatever as they stroll on and off kerbs in front of cars with dodgy brakes, those cyclists with ear buds that cancel out all background noise so they can peacefully listen to James Blunt while flying up the inside of a big truck actually indicating to go left and even those motorcyclists who sit on that blind spot by your rear wing and can't be seen as you check your mirror before indicating and pulling out to overtake the cyclist in front who is weaving around and not paying any attention to you anyway, all of them are somehow now in the right? We nasty, horrid people who sit in our nasty, horrid cars will be in the wrong if you get squished, which surely you will be as we're not saints. Some of us do drive a little too fast. Some of our cars are less than perfect. Some are legal but only just got through the MOT. Some have sharp pointy bits at the same level as your private parts. Some of us don't try and predict every conceivable movement of the people around them. We'll check for some kids near schools or playgrounds and for old ladies crossing after getting off a bus. Some of us simply won't see you because you're at a blind spot or come out of nowhere at a bushy junction. We'll do our best but we will fail if you folk on two feet or two wheels don't start being a bit more damn careful and less entitled!

The new laws are a disaster. 

I should add that I am perfectly aware that in Ukraine pedestrians and cyclist already have this priority. the difference is that everyone knows this and has been aware of it for years and years. It's kinda bred into people driving there and it a fact that the vast majority of people walk and ride in cities or large towns where there are marked crossings and traffic lights for pedestrians too. Where there isn't a crossing or light then the pedestrians and cyclists are actually pretty careful, despite having that priority. Here no new road markings are being considered. We drivers are just expected to change habits of a lifetime in a day.

I should also mention horse riders. They should get priority because it is a damn sight easier to control a bike than a horse when a car flies by with a couple of feet at 80 mph. Horse riders are invariably polite and take great care as they don't want the animal hurt. I will always treat them with great respect and happily dawdle at 6mph behind one on a country lane until it's safe to pass. 

Bikers and people can get out of the way much more easily and the idea that a cyclist should ride in the middle spreading his or her backside in the middle in full view of my dash cam for later viewing is preposterous. It takes them but a second to ease back and to the left, let me slowly past, even at a few feet without any real risk of squishing. Hogging the centre will invariably make a less patient version of me want to do damage to that rear wheel if not the backside itself. Unfortunately, the GoPro or helmet-cam cameras now look back as well as forward and it all gets recorded and they do so much like reporting us to Jeremy Vine or the Police, usually in the reverse order, so it's not a good idea. If I do find myself in that position I may well turn around and take another route. It would, indeed, be quite pleasant to meet them on a blind corner coming in the opposite direction with my sharp pointy piece in just the right position. For a change, I might even be in the right and a squishing of a cyclist might not be automatically my fault.

And yes, sod Holland. We're not flat. In our 20s and 30s, Brits have kids not bikes.

One year later: at last, a little freedom.

A few days ago most of the legal restrictions on our behaviour here in England were withdrawn. Some shops and premises may still ask us to wear a facemask but the social distancing, rules about how many may eat here or there and legal requirements for a facemask have gone. We are now, as I advocated we should be a year ago, responsible for our own behaviour and for the assessment of the risks we face.

It does, indeed, very much look as though the whole set of restrictions have been of little actual impact on the progress of the virus over the years. There is a distinct possibility that we might have been better off with good advice but not regulation, with businesses mostly continuing and not being forced to close and, in most environments, left to individual decision as to where we go, with whom and whether masked or not.

I am sure there will be plenty of reports written in years to come but I do feel very strongly that we will never again be asked to give up our freedoms of behaviour and association and movement again. It was a mistake but a mistake that is easily forgiven. Even I thought it reasonable at the time and may well have been persuaded by the 'science' and the 'data' which all looked terribly scary.

The fact is that those who make these decisions were advised by others who worked on scenarios for what might evolve. None, and I mean none, of these scenarios were even close to what actually transpired. Neither the numbers being hospitalised nor dying from the virus came close to even the most optimistic of predictions. But, as I have said, it is perfectly reasonable to accept that those who were making the decisions were unable to question those statistics in any meaningful way at the time. More recently, as other nations have taken fright once more as the omicron variant runs riot and bangs up infection numbers again and they have started locking down once more, closing borders and all sorts of other stuff, Britain has dropped the regulations. We have seen the numbers of infections rise, yes, but we have not seen any particularly dreadful rise in people becoming seriously ill. Some may say Boris and Co. took a chance last month when we were relieved of the legal burdens. It has proved correct. Denmark has done the same. Others will follow.

It is, of course, so difficult to argue with that person who screams at you about the extra risk that someone might die. It's true, by having less control there is a chance that someone , somewhere will do something stupid and cause someone else to be infected who is particularly vulnerable and they die. It is equally possible that fewer people will die as a result of more being able to be treated, perhaps in a particular way as a result of business developments that help the economy pay for more research which in turn make better treatment available, or more people to provide it through more freedom of movement. It is less easy to get across to the shouting person on Twitter who hates the government but it must be attempted.

Freedom from regulation and individual responsibility will, I am sure, lead to no more deaths or damage to health overall and, indeed, I maintain that it will help an awful lot of people suffering through frustration or worry at the moment, be that for a business that is barely surviving or some kid next door with a pervy parent.

The big thing that has made all this possible, and to which I referred one year ago, is vaccination. I had my first a year ago and now have had three. We've since had Delta, some other variants briefly of concern and then Omicron. The vaccine has dealt with all of them very nicely. I got a cold a while ago. It may have been COVID. It may not. I didn't care too much as it was just a cold and now it's gone.

That's what will happen now and next winter and, no doubt, in winters to come. People will catch colds. People will get the 'flu. Some may get some type of COVID-22 or -23 for all I know. But no more people are likely to die or get seriously ill than would be the case with colds, 'flue etc of old. We will naturally keep away from people and places where we think we might catch something. We will naturally avoid passing whatever we might catch to anyone else. We don't need laws telling us to behave that way. It's normal human behaviour. It has done us proud over goodness knows how many hundred thousand years and I'll bet on it continuing to do so.

The biggest threats have always been when people try to control us, be that as generals controlling soldiers or someone telling me what I can and can't think. Leave me alone. I want to live, not exist, please.