Jim Knight: The 'lads' mags' culture is behind too many crashes

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Indy Lifestyle Online

I remember my first car. A white Ford Fiesta. I was proud of it, enjoyed driving it and kept it clean for a few months. But I never had the urge to have alloy wheels, leather trim or a custom exhaust, and I never needed to fill the boot with hi-fi.

I am not, and have never been, "a lad". Perhaps that is why I don't understand the urge some young men have to hang out in their modified cars in empty car parks, listening to deafening music and speeding around burning rubber. I think they call it "cruising".

For some, this behaviour is a nuisance; for others, it is indulged because "boys will be boys". But it is the softer end of a lads and cars culture that leads to too many fatal collisions.

New Home Office figures show that nearly nine out of 10 of those found guilty of motoring offences are men, as are 97 per cent of those convicted of dangerous driving and more than 90 per cent of careless drivers and those causing death. A third of dangerous drivers, and a quarter of those causing death, are under 21.

Last year on British roads there were 33,645 fatal or serious crashes - over 5,000 in London alone. Lads in cars are killing thousands of us, as well as themselves. They are also costing us more in insurance. It costs motorists about £60 extra a year in premiums to meet the costs of those who hit others while uninsured. And if you are unlucky enough to be hit by an insured driver, your own insurance pays out, so you lose your no-claims bonus and end up paying much more in premiums.

That last statistic comes from Max Power, a magazine aimed at young men that describes itself as "The Definitive Guide to Arseing About in Cars". It is one of the UK's biggest-selling car magazines and mixes articles on how to modify your motor with what can only be described as soft pornography. It also appears very confused about road safety.

On the one hand, the April issue has an article attacking uninsured drivers. Their readers' survey showed that 77 per cent of 17- to 25-year-olds know someone who had driven without insurance, and 83 per cent branded those that did as either "irresponsible and selfish", or "scum who should be locked up".

But the same issue lists one of Max Power's hates as "the sound of police vans sneaking up behind you at 2am when you're pissed". It features readers with their customised cars and asks them the quickest it's been, the best car it's "blown away" and how many points they've got on their licence. It is brimming with a celebration of speed, of irresponsibility and "arseing about in cars".

Max Power is not the only "lads' car mag". It is part of a profitable genre that feeds a lads culture, which in turn encourages careless driving.

I've been campaigning to get the Government to introduce a new offence of causing death by careless driving. Earlier this month they announced their intention to do so. This is good news for those of us who want safer roads. It is bad news for some readers of these magazines who may soon find themselves facing up to five years in jail for "arseing about in cars".

But changing the law is not enough on its own. We need to keep improving enforcement, with more cameras and more police. New number-plate recognition technology can help trace drivers who flout the insurance laws. Most importantly, we need to change our driving culture.

That is where publishers of "lads mags" come in. There is nothing wrong with spending time and money on your car and taking a pride in it. There is nothing wrong with magazines that cater to that market. It is great if they run articles encouraging people to get insurance. But they are wrong to print headlines describing "going 155mph on the M25" as "naughty, irresponsible, but so much fun", to celebrate speed and speeding points, and to encourage racing other drivers from traffic lights.

The likes of Max Power need to smarten up their act and create a lads culture of safe driving to protect the rest of us who use the roads from lads' lunatic driving.

The writer is the Labour MP for South Dorset

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