Gerry Farrell: What’s better – 20mph or a dead kid?

The city council's speed limit superhero, The Reducer, gets the 20mph message across. Picture: Scott Louden
The city council's speed limit superhero, The Reducer, gets the 20mph message across. Picture: Scott Louden
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When my little ­sister was 13 she was knocked down by a car. I saw the whole thing. In fact, it was partly my fault. I was waiting for the school bus and Kate was late. I looked down the road and I was sure it was our bus on the way. I ran into the house and yelled “Kate! The bus is coming!” I crossed the road and waited at the stop. Kate sprinted out of the house, all arms and legs like a cartoon schoolgirl, straight into the middle of the road. She didn’t look right. She didn’t look left. She was walloped in the legs by a small van.

The next bit felt like slow-motion. Her body was flung up into the air. It came down again and shattered the van’s windscreen. She bounced off the bonnet and thudded onto the ­tarmac where she lay motionless. Blood began to trickle from under her head.

Gerry was attacked by a gang of youths. Picture: Donald MacLeod

Gerry was attacked by a gang of youths. Picture: Donald MacLeod

The driver was devastated. “She ran out in front of me. I couldn’t stop. I was only doing 20 miles an hour.” Kate survived with a ­fractured skull and a cut finger. She was lucky. If the driver had been doing 30mph, the chances are she would have died.

The stats tell us 20mph limits are safer. It sounds like stating the ­bleeding obvious really.

As far back as 2008, the ­Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety found Britain’s annual 3,100 road death toll would be cut by two-thirds if all residential areas had 20mph limits. Edinburgh has now decided that, apart from on a few major arterial routes like Ferry Road, the new speed limit will be 20mph, not 30mph.

Cue outrage from Edinburgh’s taxi drivers who hate change of any kind. They said it would mean people ­hiring fewer cabs because their journeys would be slower.

They organised a protest procession through the Old Town to express their feelings. Only 11 taxis took part. Of course, in cities it’s not how slow you go that slows you down. It’s how many stops you make.

The new 20mph limits won’t affect that. The people who are really grumpy about it, let’s be honest here, are the people who like to drive fast as a matter of course.

Top of the list? BMW drivers. They must spray the inside of every new Beemer with ­testosterone because those guys (and it’s nearly always the guys) just can’t bear to be held up by anyone or ­anything. Next on the list, early 20s hot-hatchers who love to gun their silly engines and roar around quiet residential roads ­pissing people off. Road death has been described by one campaign group as “the greatest avoidable public health epidemic”.

Never mind the emotional cost, the financial cost is staggering. The ­average cost per seriously injured ­casualty on the roads is £178,160, and the average cost per fatality is £1,585,510.

Anything that we can do to make a dent in those horrific statistics is to be ­welcomed, not moaned about.

Mugged once – but I won’t let it happen again

Last summer I was mugged in my own street. It was scary and humiliating. An overexcited teenager who seemed to be under the influence of some kind of legal high, squared up to me, goading me to fight him. I was trying to talk to him and calm him down when ten of his mates turned up.

Without them noticing, I slipped my phone out of my pocket and started to film them. By now, I was feeling extremely agitated. I couldn’t very well lash out at a kid who was a foot smaller than me. I would be the one to end up in court. But the rest of the gang were pulling their hoods over their heads and zipping up their jackets until only their eyes were visible.

Eventually I said: “So what are you going to do then, I’m filming this. I’ve got all the evidence I need to get you into a lot of trouble.”

At this, my aggressor became really disturbed. He got right in my face and started yelling “Come on then, film me, film my face.” I should have known better but I lifted the phone to film him close up. Immediately, his hand snaked out and he snatched it from me. They all ran away. The guy with my phone put it on the ground. He stamped on it. He took out the SIM card and bit it. He didn’t want any evidence to survive.

I chased after them shouting until a few of their big brothers appeared and invited me to come round the corner with them. I declined their offer of a good kicking. My wife had called the police and they arrived shortly afterwards. There was one witness but she wouldn’t talk to them.

A week later I was telling the story to a friend of mine who runs a gym. He offered to teach me self-defence and I jumped at the chance.

What amazed me was the amount of adrenalin still in me since the attack. Given the chance to vent my aggression on the punch bag, I exhausted myself.

The average fight lasts about three minutes. That’s a long time unless you’re super fit. I also learned how to kick. Don’t use your toes. I nearly broke one of mine trying. I learned how to use my elbows. I learned how to throw someone over my shoulder – not advisable, you could kill them. After three weeks, my street confidence had come back. I haven’t turned into a snarling cage-fighter but I certainly feel I can take care of myself if I have to.

Web saved me from meal hell

Three weeks ago, as part of my get-fit kick, I subscribed to a mail order food company called HelloFresh. Every week they send you enough fresh food to make three meals for two, along with the recipes.

I ticked the vegetarian box. So far, apart from one veggie tagine which everyone else loved, we’ve been chuffed at what we’ve got. We have to do all the chopping and stirring ourselves but we’re spared all those “What are we going to eat?” conversations. God bless the internet.