The fatal snail

I was pulled over by the police on the A17 a few days ago. “You haven’t done anything wrong,” they said – which shows how little they know me.I was pulled over by the police on the A17 a few days ago. “You haven’t done anything wrong,” they said – which shows how little they know me.

I was pulled over by the police on the A17 a few days ago. “You haven’t done anything wrong,” they said – which shows how little they know me.

“Just talk to that nice lady over there. If you want to.” Or words to that effect. So I was treated by a female member of the local road safety partnership to a question and answer session that would have been appropriate for a teenager about to get into the driving seat for the first time. The only other listeners were my wife, an excellent driver who qualified nearly 40 years ago, and a couple who looked, if anything, more experienced than I was, with 46 years to my credit.

Unsurprisingly, the lady was concentrating on speed. But she did wonder if we knew about the Fatal Four. I suggested lion, elephant, rhinoceros and hippo, but apparently this was not what they were looking for. It turned out to be driving with no seatbelt; while using a mobile phone; while drunk or under the influence of drugs; and speeding.

I was right with her on the first three, but unfortunately I had an appointment: so I didn’t have time to explain to her that the real danger on the A17, and on most other roads, was people driving too slowly.

Driving slowly is a form of selfishness – a slow driver being much more concerned with himself than with other road users. He makes it hard for others to make progress; he shows no understanding of how to overtake and is unwilling to do so; he ignores queues forming behind him; he has little awareness of hazards; he does not react quickly; he dithers when forced to make a choice; he slows almost to a standstill when turning left; he brakes unnecessarily for corners and when something comes the other way; and he fails to accelerate quickly enough when joining a major road.

Nowadays, this general incompetence tends to be mixed with a generous slice of self-righteousness: vague and erroneous ideas about saving the planet, or slow being good in some indefinable way.

I have used the male personal pronoun, but of course slow drivers could equally easily be female. I do not want to be accused of prejudice.

On a road like the A17, where the “safety” partnership has kindly made it hard to overtake by popping in bollards and cameras at irritating intervals, the slow driver is a particular menace. After miles and miles of following a snail, even the most conscientious driver will want to make progress and be tempted to overtake dangerously. And we are not talking about speeders here; we are talking about competent drivers doing the sort of thing the police used to encourage – proceeding as fast as it is safe to drive.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to be pulled over by the police and told about the dangers of driving too slowly? Somehow, I don’t think it’s going to happen. The fatal four will never include tortoise, snail and slug, however justified that would be.