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Motoring by Alan Judd - Loyalty doesn't always pay

Blog | Mar 27, 2024

Fancy a lift? Woman with rectifier and electric car in 1912

Last month was AA renewal time – hence another negotiation. The three members of this household have comprehensive cover – home start, breakdown, recovery etc. Last year’s renewal quote was £400, reduced to £300 after a telephone call. This year it was £444, again reduced to £300 after another telephone call.

Just ask for a discount. If you encounter resistance, say you’re thinking of moving elsewhere – and mean it. I suspect it’s the same with other breakdown services.

Welcome though the discount is, it’s sad that we have to go through this annual ritual. Why isn’t loyalty – 57 years, in my case – rewarded with an automatic discount? Presumably because the private equity companies owning major breakdown services rely on unquestioned renewals to earn more money.

On the one hand, I don’t blame them. On the other – come on, you’re supposed to be there for us, not we for you. So show some appreciation.

During a recent four-hour motorway bash through hard rain and enveloping spray, I counted three breakdowns. When I joined the AA, there would have been more – modern cars are more weather- resistant than their predecessors.

But there was a lonely early Mini bravely swimming doggy-paddle in the slow lane. Tiny and vulnerable, it was about half the height of the lorry wheels thundering inches away and momentarily submerging it in spray.

My own experience of early Mini ownership was not one of unalloyed pleasure. Minis were a revolutionary concept with many good points but sometimes balked at puddles, refusing them like recalcitrant showjumping Shetland ponies.

The problem was that water splashed up through the front of the engine bay onto exposed plugs and points. The fault was later solved, I believe, by the simple addition of a protective metal plate.

Modern BMW Minis, though bloated to the mid-saloon size of 50 years ago, are so, so much better.

Most vehicles on that amphibious expedition were sensibly doing less than the 70mph limit, even if few were sufficiently adjusting stopping distance to the car in front. There was also the inevitable sprinkling of nutters tailgating, flashing and switching lanes in their dash to the next hold-up.

Such people will appear whatever the penalties for speeding are (unless perhaps their cars are confiscated), but it set me wondering what would happen if the 70mph limit were scrapped. It might seem counter-intuitive – but would it actually lead to more accidents? After all, the limit was introduced without clear evidence that it reduced them.

That was in 1965, when the Government imposed it for a four-month trial following a major pile-up in fog on the M6. The trial ended inconclusively. So the non-driving Transport Minister, Barbara Castle, extended it for another two months, and then – conceding that ‘the case was not proven’ – for another 15.

The Road Research Laboratory finally announced its findings in 1967, admitting that, on the M1, ‘The numbers killed or seriously injured as a proportion of the total casualties varied between 38% and 57% between 1960 and 1965, and the value during the trial period (53%) fell within this range.’ Thus there was no significant statistical difference. But the 70mph limit was nevertheless made permanent.

Of course, few cars managed more than 100mph in those days, whereas some now double that. Also, modern roads are busier – once you’re over about 150mph, distant objects come up very fast indeed.

It’s hard to imagine any government scrapping the limit for even a short trial. Yet my hunch is that it wouldn’t make much difference to most motorists, who cruise at less than 70mph anyway. But then there are the nutters.