Whenever US and British personnel share military bases, carnage ensues. The Americans kill and are killed, using cars as their weapons of choice.
Here I’d like to share my experience of driving close to a million miles in the US, Britain and just about every country in Western Europe. Naturally, switching from one place to another, one has to adjust to different road conditions and drivers’ habits.
Comparisons are made, generalisations are drawn, and mine are that Britons are by far the best drivers I’ve encountered, and Americans are among the worst.
Statistics support this observation: in Britain we have 3.1 annual road deaths per 100,000 population; in the US it’s 12.4. Four times as many – even though Britain is cramped and drivers have to fight for every inch, while much of driving in America is done on empty motorways.
I recall driving from Houston to Los Angeles years ago, and for about 300 miles the only other car I saw going in either direction belonged to a cop who gave me a ticket for doing 40 miles over the 55 mph limit.
Other than being done for speeding, the only danger on such roads comes from falling asleep, and this may explain why it’s American and not British soldiers who create fatal accidents when serving together.
The knife’s edge conditions on British roads train drivers to stay focused at all times, never losing their concentration. Luxurious American roads may have the opposite effect – one learns to relax, knowing that it’ll be hundreds of miles before another car appears.
The latest cause for such conjecture is the scandal caused by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a CIA officer attached to an RAF base in Northamptonshire. Mrs Sacoolas drove on the wrong side of the road and killed a 19-year-old motorcyclist.
She then promptly fled the country under cover of diplomatic immunity, which supposedly protects her as well as her husband.
Now diplomatic immunity may be an essential tool in international relations, but it’s not – nor is meant to be – a licence to kill. Established by the 1961 Geneva Convention, it’s granted with the proviso that its beneficiaries must obey the law.
Causing death by dangerous driving merits up to 14 years in prison. Hence Mrs Sacoolas’s spy-drama escape on a private flight, even though she had promised the police to stay put.
The spirit of the law demands that her immunity be revoked and she face the music in Britain. The British foreign secretary made that request, only to be curtly dismissed by President Trump.
“The spouse of the US government employee will not return to the United Kingdom,” he said, adding an offhand remark that people sometimes drive on the wrong side of the road.
Indeed they do. However, if they kill as a result they tend to be prosecuted, which by the looks of it isn’t going to happen to Mrs Sacoolas.
Americans have form in being confused by unfamiliar traffic rules. Back in 2007 two US servicemen died near RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall. The Suffolk coroner then issued a reminder that Britons drive on the left, and yet in 2016 another American serviceman was killed on the wrong side of the road.
British left-hand traffic causes problems not only for Americans but also for continentals – much to the delight of a friend of mine who lives in Colchester.
His terrace overlooks a roundabout on the road leading from Harwich ferry port. Every Saturday afternoon my friend settles in a comfy deck chair, G&T in hand, and waits for some arrival from the Hook of Holland to cause an accident by driving the wrong way on that roundabout. He seldom has to wait for more than one drink.
All that points to a problem, but there is a solution. Ideally, any American or European planning to drive in Britain should take a remedial driving course. That, however, is neither practical nor promising, considering that those foreigners kill one another with alacrity even on their own roads.
Hence we must make sure that everybody drives on the same side. To that end, both the US and continental Europe should switch to left-hand traffic.
This proposal is inspired not by jingoism but by history, science and common sense.
Historically, all of Europe drove on the left until the continental blockade introduced by Napoleon, who presaged Macron in his fanatic commitment to a united Europe.
Since Britain characteristically refused to play along, out of sheer spite Napoleon introduced right-hand traffic in the European countries under his control.
Originally, people drove on the left because carriage drivers wielded their whips with the right hand. That’s why they were unlikely to lash innocent passers-by, only ever endangering other carriage drivers.
When drivers switched to cars, science came in to support left-hand traffic. Tests show that, when a head-on collision is threatened, most drivers instinctively turn the wheel to the left, which in Britain means towards the pavement and on the continent towards the oncoming traffic. That too might be a contributing factor to the remarkably low number of road deaths in Britain.
One wishes those continentals realised the error of their ways and followed our rational example proven historically and scientifically. But they never do, do they?