It was only yesterday that I wrote about the innate bossiness of liberal governments. Hence I’m thankful to HMG for illustrating my point yet again.
According to a new entry into the Highway Code, drivers will be fined £1,000 if they or their passengers open the car door with the wrong hand. That is supposed to reduce the number of cyclists injured thereby from the current toll of 500 a year.
“Where you are able to do so,” says the Code, “you should open the door using your hand on the opposite side to the door you are opening; for example, use your left hand to open a door on your right-hand side. This will make you turn your head to look over your shoulder. You are then more likely to avoid causing injury to cyclists or motor cyclists passing you on the road, or to people on the pavement.”
This is called ‘Dutch Reach’, after the nation that has pioneered so many modern perversions. Except that, as any visitor to Amsterdam will confirm, there this rule may not be quite as perverse as all that.
Amsterdam (and most other Dutch cities), especially around the canals, is ill-suited for cars. The streets are too narrow, and when a single car has to stop for whatever reason, drivers behind it can’t get to the red light district in time for the first show.
That makes cycling a natural alternative, and the country has developed a culture of moving on two wheels rather than four. Even their queen has often been photographed riding a bike, to reassure her subjects on her egalitarian credentials.
Our Queen, God bless her, rides horses, not bikes. Or else she drives or is driven. That serves as a useful reminder of the difference between England and Holland – and between the two countries’ urban environments.
Toy Dutch cities are beautiful, in a bijou sort of way. Yet little about them suggests that Holland used to be a mighty empire. London, on the other hand, is unmistakably an imperial capital, even though the empire is long since gone.
Many of its streets are wide enough for a driver to open his door with the nearer hand without risking anybody’s life and limb — especially if he uses the side mirrors God created partly for this use.
Moreover, Britain has a car culture of long standing, with most Londoners (unlike, say, New Yorkers or Parisians) owning cars and knowing how to use them safely. That’s why we have half as many road fatalities per capita as Holland, for all her love affair with the bicycle.
In any case, 500 cyclists a year injured by car doors doesn’t sound excessive, considering that London alone is cursed with almost a million bike rides every day. This, though it’s as unsuited to bicycles as Amsterdam is to cars.
Yet the bicycle isn’t just a mode of urban transportation. It’s an ideology, and many of its adherents smugly claim a high moral ground. The ideology is multifarious, including elements of class envy and ecofanaticism.
All socialist governments, which nowadays means all governments, have waged war on cars for decades. This goes back to the time when only the wealthy could own their Jags and Jensens, and they looked down on pedestrians and cyclists.
That’s no longer the case, as you can confirm by casting a glance at the car park of any council estate. From personal observation, you’ll see more pricey motors there than in some of Paris’s upmarket arrondissements. (That’s another cultural difference: unlike Parisians, Londoners love their cars and are prepared to pay more for them. Parisians, on the other hand, spend much more on food.)
But memories of class envy linger in the brain areas from which reason is barred. I’ve heard university professors make envious, and misplaced, noises about my wealth on the basis of the 3-Series BMW I drive, and such sentiments are encouraged by government officials.
Ecofanaticism is another constituent of the war on cars. Like most foolhardy initiatives, this one misses its declared mark by a wide margin.
Cars emit much less carbon when they move at a sensible speed, as opposed to crawling along or sitting in jams. That’s exactly what they do when traffic in our cities is suffocated by cycle lanes, bus lanes, traffic islands, speed bumps and punitively low speed limits.
Our government clearly sees car drivers as a cash cow to milk or, tautologically, to fleece. Taxes on cars outpace all others, and London drivers are hit with a £15 charge for driving into the city centre even on weekends. Moreover, owners of older non-electric vehicles have to pay daily charges in the vastly greater area within the circular road.
The door fine reflects all these aspects of anti-car despotism: class envy, ecofanaticism and extortion. But I do detect a silver lining there, shining bright through the clouds of liberal totalitarianism.
Things can’t be as bad as I think for the government to direct its attention to such trivial matters. Inflation rate going up, education heading in the opposite direction, the Treasury printing and borrowing promiscuously, healthcare approaching the level of Zaire, the system of collective security about to collapse – none of these is evidently as serious as naysayers like me claim.
So why stop at mandating the door-opening technique? There’s so much more to be done.
For example, coupés should be banned because they have bigger doors than sedans, which puts cyclists and pedestrians in mortal danger. Windowsill flower pots should be another target: they can fall off, causing quite a few headaches. And don’t get me started on ambulances, fire engines and police cars which don’t have to obey speed limits. Out with all of them, I say.
Every day deepens my sense of unreality, as if I’m watching a sci-fi TV film whose plot I can’t quite follow. Where’s the red button on that bloody remote?
P.S. On the same subject, scanning the headlines the other day, I noticed that many of them screamed the DEATH OF MEAT LOAF. The news saddened me because I quite like that dish, especially with a spicy tomato sauce.
However, it turned out that gastronomy had nothing to do with it. Meat Loaf was some kind of pop celebrity, meaning that I’ve never heard of him. Do you ever get the feeling that life is passing you by? I do, all the time.