It will take more than speed bumps to stop Mr Toad

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The Independent Culture
MORE GOVERNMENT money to fight speeding motorists is the latest call from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), members of which are meeting transport ministers in London today specifically to discuss speed limits.

Great idea boys, but more money for what, exactly? For installing more 30mph road signs, to remind people driving too fast to notice that they are in built-up areas, maybe. Or for putting more speed bumps into residential areas between which Ferrari drivers can test that 0-60 in 5 seconds capability so effectively.

I know all about this because at lunch recently I sat next to a man who drives a Ferrari. "It's fearfully good fun all the vroom-vrooming and then having to slam on the brakes before you get to the next bump," chortled the man, who even looked like Mr Toad.

The ACPO wants more speed cameras in cities, but everyone knows that only one in four speed cameras actually contains film. True, they act as deterrents, but Ferrari-driving toads are not easily put off. I said as much to the ACPO duty officer, who replied dryly that I'd be surprised how many people had Maseratis, Ferraris and Lamborghinis as status symbols purely to park outside their front doors. Half of them probably hadn't ever done more than 70mph on the motorway.

Living in Chelsea, I know all about status symbols. Every second car around here is an Italian job. The fashion photographer in the studios next door told me the only reason he has a Lamborghini is that its tyres are too fat to clamp.

Someone discussing traffic problems on the radio yesterday suggested the quality of urban life would improve if the speed limit in shopping and residential areas were reduced to 20mph.

Living as we do in a flat above a shop, we would benefit on both counts, though I would be surprised if any of the traffic passing under my window on the King's Road - apart from police cars, fire engines and ambulances - ever did more than 10mph. The average speed of traffic in London is apparently 7mph - we went a lot faster in horse-drawn carriages.

That's the insoluble problem with cities like London. You get maniac toads vroom-vrooming out of side streets on to the King's Road or the Embankment, putting the fear of God into pedestrians waiting patiently to cross.

To combat this trend, the council has extended the pavements and installed raised crossings made of shiny red brick at the top of every side street debouching on to the King's Road, with the intention of slowing cars down. It hasn't.

Unlike speed bumps, raised crossings have gentle slopes allowing cars to cross them at speed without damaging their infrastructure.Moreover, pavements with raised crossings don't have kerbs. Since guide dogs are trained to stop at kerbs, they are all going to have to be recalled for retraining - unless we want scores of innocent blind folk mown down at these new junctions.

Probably the only way to stop people who are bent on driving fast is to make drastic changes to car advertisements. That's what the man from the ACPO thought, too. "It's all this macho image they generate," he said. "If only they would emphasise the caring side of cars." What caring side? I didn't know they had one.

On the other hand, I do go along with his new image approach. Why can't someone invent a car that looks and feels like a Ferrari but under the bonnet has a 2CV engine? "You mean, all show and no performance?" said the ACPO officer. Rather like some of the men who drive them, if you ask me.

Call me a hedonist, but I prefer comfort to speed; and so apparently did the man we saw last weekend driving a two-seater sofa along Gloucester Road. He had a steering-wheel and an engine, I suppose, somewhere beneath its chintz loose covers. It was being tailed by two police cars, presumably to check that it wasn't breaking the speed limit.