Roads to nowhere

12:00 am Transport, Environment, Stupidity

We shouldn’t stereotype, we’re told. But if people don’t want to be stereotyped then they should really stop behaving like one. Take Suburban SUV Woman, for example. A well-known and well-worn stereotype, not to mention a cheap shot. But I’m not one to shy away from cheap shots. Call it budgetary restrictions. I followed a prime example of this one out of the supermarket the other day. Had to follow, she didn’t let me out in to the traffic queue.

See how predictable it all is? The car in question was one of those appalling faux-by-fours that the likes of BMW and Porsche put out, cynical marketing exercises on wheels. These companies have built well-deserved reputations on delivering well-engineered, superbly-performing cars and then spunk said reputations up the wall by building knobby (in all senses) high-rise “off-roaders” that would struggle on the muddy exit from the gymkhana. I always felt vaguely sorry for these manufacturers. They made good stuff and then selfish, arrogant idiots bought it. I always entertained a quaint notion that they’d really rather idiots didn’t buy their stuff, but they’d just make the best things they could anyway. But the existence of the 4×4 variants just proved that in fact they’ve given up going for engineering excellence and are just targeting SAIs. What other reason is there for the BMW X5 to exist other than to satisfy the sort of people who desperately want a BMW but desparately want an off-roader too and can’t afford both? Exactly.

Anyway, Suburban SUV Woman wasn’t driving an X5 or whatever the Porsche one’s called. No, she was in a Lexus RX300, which is even more tragic. That’s aimed at people who desperately want a BMW and an off-roader but not only can’t afford both but can’t afford an X5 either. I mean, what self-respecting X5 owner would shop at Tesco?

I imagine that Toyota, er, Lexus, sorry, saved money by leaving the indicators off. I can think of no other reason why the RX300 managed to negotiate three roundabouts and a T-junction without them putting in an appearance. Actually, I tell a lie - the left-hand indicator did actually blink once as the thing suddenly veered up the pavement (look! Off-road!). And why did it do that? So the driver could answer her phone.

You see? Yes it’s a stereotype, yes it’s a cliché, but It’s All True!

Wow, a cheap and long shot. There’s value for you.

Of course, you could try and justify SUV ownership using the state of the roads. Lots of councils are finding that a rise in compensation claims by road users is leaving them ironically short of cash to repair roads. Or at least, that’s how the story’s being reported. As ever, though, the headlines don’t quite match the reality.

For a start, this didn’t come from councils. It’s from “a report” that has found that £85m was paid out last year by councils in compensation to people who have suffered damages (including such deeply traumatic things as scuffed alloys) from potholed roads. Said people presumably also watch too much daytime telly, too, otherwise they’d never have seen the ads from The National Stiff Someone Else For Thousands Of Pounds Rather Than Just Go “Oh, I’ve Been A Bit Careless There” Helpline and wouldn’t have got the idea in the first place, but I digress.

The report in question comes from a group called the Asphalt Industry Alliance, an outfit that you’d imagine would have more than a passing interest in a massive increase in road maintenance budgets. And they clearly know which shock-horror compensation culture isn’t-it-awful buttons to press. On average each local authority in the UK paid out £750,000 in settlements compared to the £800,000 extra funding they were given for road repairs, we’re told.

Naturally the local authorities in question have leapt upon the report with glee, seeing it as a wonderful opportunity to divert attention away from their own inability to spend money sensibly. And the motoring organisations have got in on the act too, demanding (yawn) that taxation collected from drivers in fuel duty and road fund licenses should be ring-fenced for spending on the road network. Er, no. That’s not how taxation works. Sorry.

Splendidly, though, the RAC rather queer their own, and the local authorities’, pitch here. “Motorists contribute more than £43bn to the Treasury…” bleats executive director of the RAC Foundation Edmund King, “Yet only £6bn is spent on roads…” Hang on a minute - we’re spending six billion quid on roads and then getting worked up over a puny 85 million in compensation settlements? A mighty 1.4% of the road budget? Woo yay houpla.

I mean, honestly. This is nothing more than the road lobby trying to get more money for itself. Yes, compensation culture is a bad thing but it’s clearly not as bad as they’re trying to make out. And at the end of the day who cares if the roads are a bit rubbish? Hell, most councils are spending millions in traffic calming to slow traffic down while simultaneously fretting about filling in potholes to make them faster…

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