Helen Martin: Apply brakes to speedy drivers

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I AM amazed that in one day of monitoring, Edinburgh police caught only 21 out of 53 drivers on one street exceeding the trial 20mph speed limit and only 55 speeders on another two streets.

I would have bet my shirt that it would have been 100 per cent, the only exceptions being people who actually lived on the streets concerned.

We are in the 20mph pilot zone. We also have speed bumps, or “sleeping policemen”. Frankly I think ours must be catatonic rather than sleeping for all the notice drivers pay them, and we might as well have stewards at the side waving 
chequered flags because through-drivers clearly think it’s a race track. Even a sedate 30mph would be welcome in comparison with the more usual 40 or 50mph.

Unfortunately it’s also a hot spot (based on nothing more than my own observations, I admit) for drivers using mobile phones, because they don’t expect to encounter police cars or even that many people to notice them, on quiet suburban routes.

Both together can be lethal. I’ve even tried to build up a profile of those most at fault. Worst offenders are undoubtedly men in trade vans which are just high enough to clear the speed bumps without causing the driver a skull fracture, and are often owned by the company rather than the bloke behind the wheel.

Runners-up are young men in flash cars. They really are worried about their precious under-carriage, so it’s 50mph between the bumps with a rapid braking and gentle pop over before accelerating off again.

Third are lone women in big solid cars, often around school run time. A woman who is concentrating on being at the school gates on time – especially in this molly-coddled day and age when leaving the little darlings waiting for two minutes in a mild breeze is out of the question – has no time for irrelevancies like speed limits or other people’s safety. She has the determination of a she-tiger and 
nothing is going to slow her down.

If I’m walking the dog I sometimes try pointing at the bottom of their vehicle in an urgent manner. I’m saying: “What kind of speed do you call that in a 20mph zone?”

But they often think I’m saying: “Oh look, something’s falling off your car/you’ve got a flat” which often has the happy result of slowing them down.

In their defence, 20mph in most of today’s cars is little more than a crawl. It’s actually quite hard to keep to that speed so I’m not surprised many people drift up to 25 without realising it.

Drivers also spend so much time doing 20mph, because of congestion or jams, on motorways, it’s an almost automatic reaction, nay compulsion, to speed up when the road ahead’s clear.

But that’s the point. In much of the 20mph zone on the south of the city the roads are clear and quiet precisely because they are residential neighbourhood streets, places where little old ladies expect to be able to take their time, where local children learn to cycle and make their first journeys to and from school on their own, mums stroll along with prams and pet cats amble across the 
thoroughfare on their rounds.

To outsiders, it’s merely a short cut, somewhere they can put the foot down and shave two minutes off their journey.

Prestonfield resident and architect Michael Laurie got it right when he told the News last week, that unless there was genuine enforcement the 20mph zone wouldn’t work, any more than it did when it was a 30mph zone.

So here’s another idea. Why not give drivers notice that unless they slow down, as many of these roads as possible will be blocked off half-way down with concrete bollards?

Those who live or have business there will know from which end to enter . . . slowly. Cyclists and pedestrians won’t be affected at all. But those who would use them as a fast-track rat-run will be forced to take the long way round by main roads, proving the old adage – more haste, less speed.

Straight talking

GIRLS care about their appearance – nothing wrong with that. Children should enjoy school and feel at home – nothing wrong with that. So when pupils at Newbattle High School were asked for a wish list for a new campus, there among the priorities were . . . hair straighteners. Well, that’s what you get for asking them for honest input, and who can blame them?

However, here’s a history lesson. Straight hair was cool in the sixties and seventies (and usually achieved via a large piece of brown paper and an ironing board). It’s been cool for the last decade.

In between times, anyone with poker-straight hair was in a style-free zone of their own, a dweeb. Straighteners are not a forever installation.

So I hope Midlothian Council’s cabinet member for education, Councillor Lisa Beattie, gently tells them to buy their own.

In a couple of years they’ll want heated rollers anyway.