From 2022, all cars sold in Europe may be fitted with speed limiters by law. It would be a sensible move. Many drivers therefore hate the idea.
The appeal of speeding was described by PJ O’Rourke in his scabrous 1986 satire of redneck libertarianism How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink. This is a grabbier title than the one that you might put on the cover of my speeding memoir: How I Broke the UK Speed Limit by a Modest Margin While Eating a Petrol Station Sandwich and Worrying I’d Be Late for a Meeting.
Like most drivers around the world, I regarded national speed restrictions as advisory, not mandatory. Breaking them in light traffic and good weather showed my sad satnav what estimated arrival time should really apply to a hotshot like me.
Pretty soon, I began getting speeding points. Sadly, these are not bonus vouchers you can trade in for a faster car, but fines. Get four in three years and you generally lose your licence. Police forces in rural areas with depressed local tax bases award them liberally.
After a while, I was ordered to attend a speed workshop. Disappointingly, this was not a masterclass in how to drive faster. Rather the opposite. It was instructive. First, it showed me how ugly a roomful of BMW-driving sales managers can become after listening to a two-hour ticking off from an ex-policeman called Derek. Second, it taught me that most car smashes are on slow roads with unsegregated two-way traffic, not motorways.
I no longer speed. I have not become a better person. I moved to London. Traffic jams here make it tough for locals to travel faster than 8mph.
The only other UK drivers under strong compulsion to drive below the limit in the UK own Ferraris and Aston Martins. The constabulary are looking for any excuse to stop them — they enjoy sitting in the passenger seat while writing the ticket.
Some Britons are furious about mandatory speed limiters, which the UK would opt into, despite Brexit. Perhaps they imagine that a reduction in road traffic following Britain’s economic collapse would otherwise open up exciting new opportunities for driving too fast.
The AA says “a little speed” helps people avoid accidents. The motoring organisation presumably opposed compulsory seat belts in 1983 on the basis — widely-cited at the time — they would “stop occupants being thrown safely clear in accidents”.
Compulsory speed limiters raise the liberty question. Most societies have laws created by politicians who were trying to look like they were doing something useful. The effective body of law depends on a feedback loop between citizens and law enforcement. For example, UK police do not stop cars — except Ferraris — travelling a few miles per hour over the speed limit.
Speed limiters circumvent this quiet conspiracy between citizens and the long but pragmatic arm of the law. Increasingly, technology will allow busybody governments to enforce rules strictly.
Libertarians are also up in arms in Europe about a green-leaning draft law requiring thermostats in all homes to restrict room temperatures to a chilly 19 degrees. Or they will be, if they don’t realise that I made the whole thing up.
If speed limiters are the end of a wedge, it is a wafer-thin end. Under the EU’s unintentionally ironic original proposal — since watered down — drivers could override limiters by accelerating. Cars with cruise control already have a limiter of sorts.
There are few valid objections to speed-limiting technology, providing teenage hackers cannot commandeer it to engineer the world’s largest rear-end shunt. Steadier speeds shorten journey times. The loss of agency is bearable when weighed against loss of life.