Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 20th November 2017

NEW driving tests, set to come into force next month, are designed to better equip people for “real world” motoring. The changes in the test will double the time spent driving, look at basic skills such as parking and ask candidates to use sat navs and other in-car technology.

RAC Foundation director Steve Gooding welcomes the testing as providing a more realistic assessment of ability, while the Driver Vehicle Standards Agency believes changes will ensure new drivers have the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to drive safely on Britain’s roads. Last year more than 800 new and inexperienced drivers were killed and seriously injured in road collisions, many of them involving high speed and rural roads.

I remember passing my test — at the second attempt — after a 10-minute trundle round a route I’d rehearsed with my instructor a dozen times before. I just about managed the emergency stop and reversing round a corner.

Having that slip of paper in my hand that said I had passed was no preparation for the open road in bad weather or on the motorway.

Hopefully the new test will better equip inexperienced drivers for a wide range of situations. However, one vital word appears to be missing from the list of skills — courtesy. A lot of anger and frustration, some of which leads to accidents, could be spared if more drivers practised common courtesy.

I live in town where the streets are busy and there’s got to be give and take among drivers. It doesn’t inconvenience you too much to give way to a fellow motorist, or just wait a few moments while a jam clears.

And a simple wave of acknowledgement goes a long way. There’s nothing quite as annoying as having waited five minutes for someone to navigate a tight spot only for them to drive off, staring straight ahead without so much as nod of thanks.

But when two or more of us have sorted out the problem, that little salute or thumbs up makes the day seem to pass more pleasantly. New drivers are some of the worst when it comes to saying thank you. I put it down to lack of knowledge rather than blind ignorance. Courtesy costs nothing, so why can’t it be included in the driving test? Good road manners are surely more important than knowing how the sat nav works.

STILL NOT TAKING HEED

ONE thing even the most stringent driving test cannot do is predict what sort of driver a candidate will be once they’ve got their licence.

And, for all the publicity, people still do the stupidest, most dangerous things when they get behind the wheel. It’s almost a part of modern-day living that some use their vehicles as an extension of their office and don’t consider for one moment that texting, reading documents propped up on the steering wheel and eating a three-course meal while travelling in the outside lane of the M6 are in any way unusual.

Some years ago a young woman ran into the back of my car while I was halted a traffic lights. She confessed she had been reading notes on the front passenger seat for a presentation she was due to give to her bosses later that day. Fortunately no major damage was done and she was more shocked than I was.

But when football agent Peter Morrison came zooming down the rainswept M6 near Tebay he had been constantly sending and receiving messages, 44 of them on his journey from Glasgow, and his inattention led to the death of highways engineer Adam Gibb and life-changing injuries to one of Mr. Gibb’s colleagues.

Morrison was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving, but still considered his actions “unwise” rather than downright dangerous. Perhaps when he is sentenced later this month the impact of his selfishness will hit home. For the families of the workers he struck, the pain will never end.

Every day you witness people using mobile phones at the wheel, often while driving fast. I’ve seen lorry drivers in my rear view mirror reading newspapers and maps spread across the dashboard. The message just isn’t getting through.

There was a time when you’d see at least one police patrol car on any journey. Now they are rarer than hens’ teeth. If Morrison’s tragic tale has any lesson maybe it’s that the police need to turn back the clock and adopt a more prominent presence on our roads once again. Too many drivers have a cavalier approach to the use of phones despite all the publicity. Had Morrison been halted by cops on his trip south perhaps the tragedy that ensued would never have happened and the lives of two good Cumbrian families would have not been damaged forever.

SUPPORT GOES BOTH WAYS

POLICE forces throughout Britain are abandoning inquiries into thousands of low-level offences. Low level to the police might be high level to you and me if we’d just been burgled or had our property vandalised.

Can it really be correct, as I read recently, that many police forces are now refusing to investigate crimes resulting in a loss of less than £50 unless there’s evidence of violence or fraud to gain entry? The police are asking the Government for more resources. In general the public supports the police, but what the police must understand is that for the public to support them, they must first support the public.

National guidelines say that unless crimes are listed as mandatory or a priority they will not be investigated without a clear likelihood of detection. In other words, if you want your crime detecting, you’d better become your own Poirot otherwise it will be just be written off as too trivial to follow up.

Like the NHS, education and everything else, the police blame cuts. If Big Chief I-Spy, whose books entertained us oldies in our childhood, was on the go today he’s offer at least 10 bonus marks for actually spotting a real live copper on his beat.

I accept the police have new challenges, such as the growth in cyber crime, human trafficking and the threat of terrorism, and policing in the 21st Century is far removed from Dixon of Dock Green. But stunts like dressing bobbies in high heels, riding fairground dodgems and adopting bear masks don’t build public faith in the service. Too many politically correct bosses and the Home Office’s indulgence in politically-motivated minorities and their knee-jerk grievances add to the general view that real crimes are being routinely ignored.

The police need our support more than ever before, but they have got to earn it and reset some of their distorted priorities.

ONE OF A TYPE

SOMEONE once described my method of typing as akin to playing the piano — very badly. I must confess that, when I’m bashing out an opinion piece, I get quite passionate about the subject and, whether it was an old-fashioned typewriter or a modern computer, the keys take a dreadful hammering. There’s hardly a legible letter left on the keyboard of my current laptop.

Typewriters were infinitely more robust than these snowflake computer keys. And they’re suddenly cool, not as you might imagine with us oldies, but with a whole new generation of under-30 typists.

It’s a rather sweet story. The typewriter revolution that began in the United States has spread over here where dozens of obsolete machines are being restored every week. Repairmen are being enticed out of retirement to feed a generation that had never heard the sound of a carriage return or the ping of a bell.

What got me interested in being a journalist, all of 60 years ago as a school kid, was seeing a local reporter, Charlie Bone, hammering out his copy on a typewriter with half a dozen carbon copies bulging in the carriage. There was something exciting and romantic about it all. All he lacked was a “press” ticket in his hat like in the old American movies.

The typewriter needed a celebrity endorsement and now it’s got one in the shape of actor Tom Hanks who has a collection of more than a hundred. Woody Allen writes everything on an old typewriter and Philip Chapman, who sells around 500 machines a year, says they appeal to creative writers and parents who want to get their kids away from their smartphones and tablets.

Computers weren’t even a twinkle in Bill Gates’s eye in Charlie Bone’s day. Microchips were a small portion of what was served in a newspaper with salt and vinegar. I often wonder what became of Charlie’s old Imperial with its sturdy keys that turned red hot as an old reporter pounded out the news stories of the day.