Speeding no big deal - BBC's Jeremy Clarkson
No apologies at all for republishing this article by the Independent's Johann Hari on the day BBC TV screens a new series of Top Gear.
One afternoon in 2001, my 80-year-old grandmother crossed the road to post a letter - and was smacked by a car "breezing along" at 45mph. She was thrown into the air, tossed over the car, and left haemorrhaging on the asphalt. Her legs were smashed. Her hip was wrecked. Her brain was damaged. Because she is incredibly tough, she did not become one of the 1,000 people killed by speeding drivers in Britain every year - but it took her a year to relearn to walk, and she has never been able to live in her own home, in dignity, again.
So when I hear about the return of a TV show presented by a man - Jeremy Clarkson - who says "speeding is no big deal", a trivial act that shouldn't even be punished with points on your licence, I cannot let out the indulgent chuckle that so many people offer at Top Gear's mop-headed incitements to break the law.
Instead, I think of the dozens more people who will suffer like my grandmother because of his babbling in defence of illegal speeding. Speeding is not an abstract problem or a glib gag. It is a crime. It claims victims every day. And advertising works. If you see a 30-second advert for Coke, you become more likely to buy Coke. If you see a half-hour advert for speeding, paid for with your licence fee and mine, then you are more likely to speed.
And yes, that's what Top Gear is. Clarkson and his co-presenters use this public platform to brag about their ability to find "high octane red-line thrills" on the roads you and I have to cross. He talks about his "sympathy" for the thugs who vandalise speed cameras that - according to independent studies - save over 300 children a year. (The AA begged him to stop). He doesn't even offer the factually wrong argument that speed cameras are merely a way to rake in cash for the Government. No - he boasts: "I don't curse speed cameras because of civil liberty issues. I curse them because they slow me down."
Yes, Jeremy. They slow you down to stop you crippling people like my grandmother. If you hit somebody at 40mph, there is an 80 per cent chance they will die. If you hit somebody at 30mph, there is an 80 per cent chance they will live. But you put your "right" to have a semi-sexual experience in an inanimate lump of metal (a pretty sad comment on your menopausal libido) above the rights of ordinary people to not be killed by you and your anencephalic followers.
Occasionally Clarkson claims he only speeds on private tracks, and it's true Top Gear stunts are staged there. But the speed cameras he hates are not placed on private property and Clarkson has admitted to private speeding by boasting, "I tend to drive fast and recklessly in Lincolnshire. I'm a lout in places that have the topography of blotting paper." Is all of Lincolnshire a private track? Perhaps in his mind.
But on Top Gear, driving at skull-smashing speed is always a big joke. On tomorrow night's show, they are screening the accident in which presenter Richard Hammond nearly died with Boy's Own breathlessness - "the most extreme stunt ever!" The grief and agony of accident victims (including Hammond's family) are washed away in the name of an adrenalin-rush. If you think people don't take Top Gear's ravings seriously, check out the message boards on the web, packed with people who take the presenters' injunctions that it's okay to speed, speed, speed literally.
While the bulk of my sympathy lies with the victims of Top Gear's speedophilia, I also feel sorry for these fans, who are being taken for fools. On the show and in his slurry-columns, Clarkson tells his followers that global warming - already killing tens of thousands of people every year - is a myth and they can carry on buying SUVs without compunction. Yet one newspaper last year reported Clarkson saying in an aside: "I would be absolutely mad to say I don't believe in global warming when we are right bang in the middle of the hottest summer for 400 years. Of course there is global warming, and you would be extremely surprised about my views on other such matters...I lead a surprisingly green life." Yet he has such contempt for his viewers that, to their faces, he brags about leaving on his patio heater to wind up Greenpeace.
Last time I criticised Top Gear, the show's camp-followers called me "a killjoy". No - what kills joy is seeing somebody you love broken to pieces because of "no big deal" speeding. Thanks to Top Gear - and the BBC who have recommissioned it - there will be more people enduring that soon. Forgive me if I can't see the joke.
* Follow this link to the Road Peace website. Google's Ad Sense automatically allocates advertisements to On An Overgrown Path, and performance car ads are currently coming up due to the content of this article. All advertising revenues generated this week will be donated to Road Peace. PLEASE click on the advertisements on the right. It doesn't cost you anything, and every click is money for a fantastic charity.
* Now read, and listen to the music, of one of the many great musicians who have died in road accidents - Sweden's best kept secret, Jan Johansson. Civilized comment and debate about this article is welcome. But, sadly, previous experience shows that fans of Jeremy Clarkson have difficulty with the concept of civilized debate. Offensive comments from either side will be deleted.
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