Seatbelts are a royal pain

Just try to keep her wheels-down next time, Your Royal Highness – and God bless you

Britain and the rest of the world must be in great shape, judging by the amount of space our papers see fit to devote to Prince Philip’s road accident.

Though the police haven’t confirmed this yet, it’s generally assumed that the accident was his fault. After all, HRH is 97, so who else can possibly be to blame?

Complaints against HRH vary in pitch and vituperation, depending on the paper’s feelings about the monarchy. But in essence they say either that 1) old people shouldn’t drive, 2) he should have been wearing a seatbelt, 3) His next Land Rover shouldn’t have been delivered the next day when the rest of us have to wait longer, and consequently, 4) Britain should be a republic.

Dismissing 3) and 4) as ideologically driven and therefore inane, let’s concentrate on 1) and 2).

On the subject of 1), I agree that drivers who present danger to others shouldn’t be driving – and I hope you appreciate the effort it has taken me to say this.

For I myself am serving a year-long ban, having suffered a (one hopes temporary) health setback that entails the risk of passing out at the wheel. Fair enough, I have to admit, teeth gnashing.

Yet it’s that medical problem that got me banned, not my age. Actually I’m a much safer driver now than I was 40 years ago.

When I was 30, I routinely impersonated a race driver on public roads, and was often drunk when doing so. “If you can walk, you can drive,” I’d say with the stupid arrogance of waning youth.

That sort of thing was irresponsible, and I’m glad that age (and Penelope’s screams) has brought some sense into my life. And I bet many people my age can say similar things.

I do know that older drivers have fewer accidents and traffic violations than youngsters, yet I’m not proposing that young drivers should be banned.

The upshot of this is that dangerous drivers shouldn’t drive, and safe ones should. As to the speed of one’s reflexes, then yes, it does diminish with age.

Yet that statement would only mean something if everybody’s reflexes were equally fast to begin with. But they aren’t.

My reflexes, for example, started out fast and then were further quickened by a lifetime of trying to volley balls hit at 90 mph. However, if my reflexes of 40 years ago were 100 in some imaginary units, they may well be 90 now.

But I’m still quicker than someone whose reflexes are 85 at their fastest. So why should I be banned on that basis while he still drives whistling a merry tune?

Moreover, someone with decades of driving experience is better equipped to avoid situations where quick reflexes are necessary.

Thus I know that only my reflexes kept me alive when I and my cousin would race each other through New York, each of us a bottle of booze in the bag. My need for super-quick reactions doesn’t arise nearly as often now, if ever.

I do think it sensible that older drivers should submit an annual self-assessment of their health, as I did, knowing that a 12-month ban would follow. And perhaps it would be sensible to assess drivers over 80 individually.

But there’s no reason for advocating a blanket ban. As to the outcry about Prince Philip not wearing a seatbelt, that’s even sillier.

Seatbelts do merit discussion, but not in this context. For, even assuming that HRH was at fault in the accident, it certainly didn’t happen because he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.

In fact, by neglecting to do so, he was endangering no one but himself, and I don’t think laws should protect us from ourselves. They’d do well protecting us from wrongdoers, a task in which they’re demonstrably remiss.

When I first came to England all those decades ago, I made that very argument to a good friend of mine, doctor cum journalist.

His counterargument was that, since a driver suffering an injury as a result of not wearing a seatbelt puts extra pressure on the NHS, the state has a right to make such negligence illegal.

That, I said, is an excellent argument against socialised medicine – when the state does a lot for you, it feels entitled to do a lot to you. My friend almost snapped my head off, but I’m happy to report that he has since moderated his views on the NHS.

Wearing a seatbelt may be a good idea, but that doesn’t mean the law should make it obligatory. It’s also a good idea to get regular exercise, avoid stress and eat sensibly, but that doesn’t mean failure to comply should be punishable by law.

One can understand when such attacks on HRH appear in papers like The Guardian, which are socialist and therefore ideologically committed to shifting as much power as possible from the individual to the state.

But when someone like Stephen Glover echoes the same din in a residually conservative Mail, it’s upsetting: “Why shouldn’t they [the royal couple] buckle up like the rest of us? We tell our children to do so, and expect to be chided by police, even prosecuted and fined, if we don’t wear seatbelts.”

Quite apart from what I think of that law, this has nothing to do with the subject under discussion. So why bring it up?

I do wish Prince Philip many more active years, and I trust him to decide for himself when it’s time to turn in his driving licence. He has earned the right.

P.S. Now that we’ve touched on one of my pet gripes, here’s another. The Australian Open is under way, and I marvel at the commentators’ ability to buck statistical odds.

One would think that, having dealt thousands of times with the devilish task of pronouncing Russian names, they’d get one right just once. Yet so far they haven’t. It’s Sha-RA-po-va, chaps, not Sha-ra-PO-va.

And commentators do only marginally better with French names. Yet they, and many other Englishmen of a similar background, bizarrely insist on enunciating the interdental sound in Spanish names like Muguruza.

First, even many Spanish speakers don’t pronounce it Mugurutha. And second, why single out this one phoneme for such pedantry, while ignorantly mispronouncing most of the others?

Incidentally, Englishmen of a certain class tend to replace ‘th’ with an ‘f’. Adding this defect to their selective knowledge of Spanish phonetics, they amusingly pronounce the name of their favourite island as Ibiffa. Go with the ‘z’, lads, and damn the torpedoes.

5 thoughts on “Seatbelts are a royal pain”

  1. Very rich people ordinarily have a chauffeur do all their driving. That way if there is an accident the rich person cannot be sued personally.

  2. No, keep using the Fs lads, preferably three at a time in memory of 3F Smith. The Fs, like full-face or full-body tatts, will warn us of what to avoid, especially cheap flights to your favourite destinations.

  3. When I was a serving soldier in Northern Ireland, I was exempt from the seat belt law because, as a constant terrorist target, I may have had need to egress the vehicle in a hurry…are the royals exempt for the same reason?

    On the Spanish pronunciation of ‘Z’ (and ‘C’ and ‘S’ sometimes): The ‘th’ pronunciation is really only used in Castilian Spanish – the equivalent of what we might term ‘BBC English'(not so much nowadays), or received pronunciation. The Andalusian accent, for example, is characterised by its absence of the ‘th’ as are Mexican and South American accents/ pronunciations. My Galician girlfriend comes from the delightful coastal town of Sanxenxo. In Castilian Spanish, the ‘X’ is pronounced with a guttural sound – as in the ‘ch’ of the German ‘acht’ – and Sanxenxo is extremely difficult for non native speakers to pronounce, with the ‘ch’ sound occurring in adjacent syllables. A Galician pronounces it ‘Sanshensho’ – very close to Portuguese (as is the Galician dialect) and much easier for this Brit to pronounce.

  4. “It’s Sha-RA-po-va, chaps, not Sha-ra-PO-va.”

    Well, every day’s a school day as they say.

    And is it ShostAkovich rather than ShostakOvich?

    I seem to remember the late great Aleksandr Isayevitch favouring the former pronunciation, whereas the BBC (who despite their manifolds sins and wickednesses, do usually try to get such things right) inevitably use the latter.

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