Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 29th January 2019

DON’T lump all ageing drivers into the same category as His Royal Arrogance.

The Duke of Edinburgh had an accident. He, and the occupants of the other vehicle, were lucky to get away comparatively unscathed. Anyone, at any age, can have an accident. It’s the fact he’s 97 and a royal that makes headlines.

However, the crass arrogance to set out on public roads 48 hours later not wearing a seat belt implies Prince Philip regards himself as someone not constrained by the rules everyone else has to observe.

I was amazed to learn there are 110,790 people aged 90 and over still holding a driver’s licence, and that 314 of these are aged at least 100, including four people aged 107.

There’s a traditional cartoon character view of older drivers as dithering fools chugging along the highways and byways at 10mph. However, older drivers are often more sensible and careful than their younger counterparts. Statistics show that 22 per cent of fatal and serious road traffic accidents involve drivers in the 17 to 24 age bracket. Seven per cent of the driving population is responsible pro-rata for most bad smashes.

Just because one elderly royal thinks the rules don’t apply to him, age is a poor guide to driving ability. Of course there’s no room for drivers with Mr Magoo’s eyesight on our roads, but overall the safety record of older drivers stands up to scrutiny.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, says that on average older people are less likely to have an accident than younger drivers, yet we don’t make a fuss about banning or restricting them. Even the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has words of support, saying age is completely arbitrary and an unreliable measure for assessing someone’s ability to drive.

“If we were to restrict drivers based on age and accident rates, we would need to take a fresh look at inexperienced, younger drivers,” said Nick Lloyd, the organisation’s head of road safety.

A knee-jerk response would unnecessarily ban thousands of perfectly capable drivers and have a severe and unfair impact on the social lives of older people, particularly those who live in rural areas where public transport is not always available.

The Duke, who seems to think saying sorry means getting a flunky to do his dirty work, was probably right to get back on the horse, as it were. But by immediately flouting the safety belt law he did a disservice to us 70-pluses by yet again giving ammunition to those whose ageist views are not borne out by the facts.

PHEW, A CLOSE SHAVE

I HAD a close shave the other day while driving on a normally quiet country road.

Minding my own business I was suddenly confronted by a cyclist coming the opposite way, being overtaken with an excess of width by a car whose driver was obviously so concerned to give the rider a wide berth she did not see me. Fortunately there was a little strip of grass to my left and I ran on to that, thus avoiding a collision. I caught a glimpse of the other driver — a look of sudden shock.

Of course she was doing the right thing and giving the cyclist room. Indeed heeding the message from Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy that we all, drivers and bike enthusiasts, need to show better understanding of each other and be more considerate. People’s lives are at risk and it’s time to stop the “them versus us” attitude and have a bit more “thumbs up and waving” as he put it. So determined was she to follow that creed she completely forgot about me.

Cycling has become a major participation activity in recent years. Department for Transport figures indicate people travelling on two wheels are 63 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured than car drivers. Two-thirds of deaths on two wheels occur on rural roads.

Just as there are thoughtless drivers there are bad cyclists. Cycling fans will tell you it’s healthy, environmentally friendly and more of us should get on our bikes. But we must all be considerate, aware and safe, whether in our cars or on a bike, that’s common sense.

I get the impression the publicity given to the issue by the likes of one of our most successful Olympic athletes is working. I see drivers being more patient and giving cyclists space. The problem is that not all riders are Chris Hoy — it’s just that some of them think they are.

UNWELL, NOT GREEDY

I’M feeling a whole lot better now I realise that my weight gain over the festive period was not the result of overindulgence. No, it turns out I’ve been unwell, a victim of my genetic make-up and deprivation in terms of societal contact and health irregularities.

So nothing to do with a hearty Christmas lunch, that entire box of orange creams consumed in a nocturnal eating orgy, the two magnificent buffets I was fortunate enough to attend, the crisps and biccies I’d pledged to give up, the fish and chips I treated myself to on the day Carlisle, Penrith and Workington Reds all won, plus the little extras left over from Christmas and New Year that it would have been churlish not to polish off.

No, none of these. Those extra five pounds are, say boffins from the Royal College of Physicians, not a lifestyle choice. Obesity is an illness, “caused by health inequalities, genetic influences and social factors”.

Towards the end of 2018 I had, to some extent, got my body back in shape. Well, not quite. But the 5:2 diet plus a regular exercise regime had trimmed a good stone and a half off my increasingly portly frame while leaving more to work on.

I’m more or less back on the wagon, food-wise, now. The press ups and the planking are back on schedule, but those extra pounds acquired over the past month have made the workouts seem tougher. At least I console myself that my weight gain had nothing to do with my own inability to refuse an endless supply of illicit goodies. No, it’s my condition you see. Brought about by all those other factors that have no connection with having spent my time stuffing my face with notoriously fattening food. I’m sure many of you suffer in similar fashion. It’s not your fault. We’re officially excused by the medics. We’ve got our sick note stamped by the experts. You have my sympathy.

STAR STRIKER IS THE MAN

TRAVEL writer Simon Calder has been musing on potential names for British airports. After all, Rome has Leonardo da Vinci, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Tirana Mother Teresa. The best we can do is George Best Belfast City and Liverpool John Lennon.

Calder says Birmingham has a legitimate claim to Shakespeare and Heathrow will eventually become Queen Elizabeth II airport. But what about Carlisle’s revitalised airport — if it ever takes flight. Never mind politicians and business people whose contributions to local life are often transitory. My suggestion? Carlisle Hugh McIlmoyle International. He’s already got a statue outside Brunton Park. An airport must surely follow.

PANTO FUN

AN influential group of German business people and politicians wrote to The Times lamenting Brexit and commenting how much they are going to miss our great British traditions like tea with milk and festive season panto.

On Friday I took up an invitation to attend the Braithwaite village hall pantomime. And jolly good it was, too. Traditional, funny, an honest-to-goodness escape from the telly and mobile phone. And the audience? Well, they made it with their joyful participation. The hissing and booing of the villain and the “he’s right behind you” joke that never fails.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and fellow leading German dignitaries would have loved it, obligatory Brexit quip and all. They like us. They want us to stay. In fact, this whole Brexit fiasco is a pantomime, if you ask me.

NOT SO HOT, MUM

THE BBC needs to grow some you know what’s and repeat those old It Ain’t Half Hot Mum programmes and be damned if they offend. Windsor Davies, who played the splenetic, bawling sergeant major, has died aged 88. He used to be a regular visitor to the Lake District and I remember the actor and Don Estelle, the little chap with the good voice, often staying in Borrowdale.

The Beeb, worried about upsetting people who think the sitcom was racist, sexist and homophobic, has never repeated the episodes, although viewers used to say it reminded them of their time in the war and national service.

We’re so timid now that Carry On films will be next to be censored and everything that isn’t exactly correct by today’s standards will be deleted from history.