Magazine article The Spectator

Question of Speed

Magazine article The Spectator

Question of Speed

Article excerpt

I should have used the Discovery 3 to tow an ancient and heavy horse-trailer loaded with well over a ton of logs. Its V6 direct-injection diesel, with plenty of low-end torque, would have smiled; in low ratio first, on rough ground, it pulls it on tickover. But I felt it was time the 39-year-old Series 3 Land Rover - 2,286cc petrol, straight four - had a run-out.

All went swimmingly - if snails can swim - until the last hill before home, half a mile of steeply ascending bends. I had hoped to do it in second - the queue behind already stretched out of sight - but by the last bend that valiant old engine was losing breath. I'd have to get down to first and that, as anyone familiar with Series Land Rovers will know, usually means stopping because there's no synchromesh to slot you into bottom gear.

Even then, would it pull away again on that uncompromising gradient? Or would I have to go down to low ratio? If it came to that they'd be announcing the queue behind me on the Six O'clock News. But those hours long ago spent learning to drive across fields in old Bedfords (old even then) were not wasted. Double declutching, like riding a bike, stays with you. Leaking master cylinder notwithstanding, the old lady slipped sweetly into first without stopping and we chugged onwards and upwards.

The slow climb gave time to ponder, between glimpses of my embarrassing tail in the wing mirror, the sense and nonsense of raising the motorway speed limit to 80mph.

It's something of each, of course. The nonsense is to suggest it will help the economy;

it won't, although by increasing fuel consumption it will increase tax revenue. Roadsafety charities and environmentalists are against, the Institute of Advanced Motorists proposes trials on selected roads, the AA suggests extending variable speed limits up to 80mph.

One main plank of the supporting argument is that 80 is already the effective limit on motorways, so surely it makes sense to acknowledge it. Virtually all drivers break the 70 limit and prosecutions for speeds under 80 are rare. In order to take account of permitted manufacturing error in speedometers and the fact that it is almost impossible to adhere strictly to any limit while keeping your eyes on the road, the Association of Chief Police Officers recommends a margin of error in the motorist's favour of 10 per cent plus 2mph. Which takes you to 79mph.

Another main plank is the huge improvement in braking, tyres, general safety and performance since the 70 limit was introduced in 1965. …

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