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Speed Kills so Kill Your Speed!

The connection between drugs and cars is quite a close one. It always has been according to one view. Both provide dangerous, perhaps life-threatening thrills, if illegitimately used and both make modern life without them unthinkable, if not necessarily unbearable. It is perhaps for these reasons that a kind of delicious irony accompanies road signs which chillingly declare that ‘speed kills’. There is what has been described as ‘a significant drug-driving problem which significantly impacts on road safety’ on our roads. Sadly, driver error remains the most common cause of road accidents. It is just as dangerous to drive with legal drugs, taken otherwise than in accordance with a prescription, as it is to drive with illegal drugs.

At the start of the First World War there were around 100,000 cars on British roads. By the end of the Second World War there were more than 2 million. As technology advanced through the years, and fuelled by the ‘magic of averages’, cars became more affordable, so that by 1969, when man first landed on the moon, there were around 20 million. Today there are more than 35 million. These statistics are interesting because easier access to illegal drugs has coincided with the rise of the car industry. By 1930 the offence of driving while unfit through drugs had landed on our statute books, not because the law makers were dreaming up new and imaginative offences but because social drug misuse had started to rival alcohol abuse. Curiously, the drink-drive offence was already on our statute books in 1870, twenty five years before the first mass produced motor cars had actually graced our roads!

Speed on modern day roads is quite a long way from the world of Mr Daimler and Mr Benz. In 1860 the speed limit was 2 mph in town and twice that in rural areas. Motor vehicles had to be preceded by a flag-carrying pedestrian. The police then, as now, were enthusiastically keen to vigorously pursue, apprehend and fine any transgressors! The largely working class police were strong opponents of a 1903 law which raised the speed limit to 20 mph. They attacked the move as a law ‘of the rich, for the rich and by the rich’. It was the middle and upper classes who could afford both fast cars and lots of fast drugs. Interestingly 1903 was the year that driving licences were introduced ‘as a means of identifying motor vehicles and their drivers’. No thought was given to road safety. Legislation for compulsory driving tests was only introduced in 1934.

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