Drivers' memories of road advice take turn for the worse: Drivers who once found it indispensable have now all but forgotten it. Esther Oxford tests some who should know

ROY MINTO last looked at The Highway Code 42 years ago. He laughs when he realises how little he remembers: 'Show me a copy and maybe it will all come back to me,' he says gruffly, stepping down from his 38-ton truck parked in north London.

'Most of what is in The Highway Code is just common sense,' he said, flicking through the new edition. 'But you can't pick it up through reading. You have to experience it.' He climbed back into his cab.

Three blocks away amid a row of scrap-metal merchants housed under bridge arches, Owen Bennett, a panel-beater, said his speciality was fixing cars that had been 'slaughtered' or written off by insurance companies.

'I never ask the owners how they smashed up the car. People are very proud of the way they drive - and who am I to criticise? I learnt the Highway Code for my test five years ago, but ask me a question now and I wouldn't have a clue,' he said.

Four arches down is Steven Keer's garage. 'Course I know my Highway Code,' he said. 'I never forget nuffing in my life. I teach the blooming thing. Come on, test me.'

What is the maximum speed limit for a car on a single carriageway?

'Forty, no, 50 miles an hour. It has got to be.' Wrong.

Around the corner in a tea shop, three policemen queued for bacon sandwiches. One said: 'I don't know anything about the Highway Code. It is not mentioned in police training. After all, it is not an offence to break the code is it?'

They agree that most of the crash scenes they attend are the result of 'swapping lanes without looking properly'.

A quick ferret through the new Highway Code and the relevant lecture can be discovered: 'do not . . . you must not . . . make sure that . . . remember that . . . be especially careful at . . . always get back . . .'

Speeding is also a problem, the officers said: 'There is a residential road round the back here which people treat as a motorway - they speed at 70 or 80 at least. When we are forced to stop them they usually plead ignorance. But the signs are there - they just choose to ignore them.'

One of the policemen, a Scot, does not want to give 'personal details' but says that as far as driving is concerned, London is 'the worst'. 'It is like a different world. People wheel around just that little bit faster. They just fail to give way.'

And what does he think about the new Highway Code?

'We haven't been told about it. We didn't even know about it. To be honest, I've never given it much thought.'

(Illustrations omitted)

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