1964 Bulova Accutron - powered by a tuning fork

Tick, tock, hummmm…

Watches are all about oscillations and oscillators.  A watch needs to have something inside it that moves in a way that can mark time.  Since the fourteenth century, this has been a balance wheel, mounted on pivots and powered by a spring.  The ‘tick, tick, tick…’ you hear when you hold a watch to your ear is the balance wheel swinging round, getting caught by the escapement and swinging back.

The more oscillations the wheel can make in a second, the more accurate the watch, by and large.  As watchmakers and metallurgists have got cleverer, so balance wheels have got faster.  The fastest mechanical watches today usually beat at around 36,000 beats per hour – around 10 per second – with a few specialist movements going a whole lick quicker.

The Zenith El Primero, running a 36,000bph movement.
The Zenith El Primero, running a 36,000bph movement.

But there’s only so fast a wheel can rotate before physics gets in the way.  So watchmakers started looking for better, faster, oscillators.  And that’s how they arrived at watches with a tiny piece of quartz as their oscillator.

Today, if you have a quartz watch on your wrist, the tiny quartz crystal tuning fork sealed in a vacuum inside is beating at 32,768 times a second.  Get yourself a Grand Seiko quartz with a 9F movement and it’s so accurate you only need to set it when the clocks change.

But there was a stage between balance wheel and quartz that often gets forgotten – tuning fork watches.

In 1953, sixteen years before Seiko’s first quartz watch, Arde Bulova and Max Hetzel collaborated to file the patent on a movement that used a tuning fork.  This is the watch that became the Bulova Accutron.  When the tuning fork vibrates in an Accutron, it moves a tiny ruby-tipped escapement that allows a 2.4mm diameter wheel to rotate, tooth by minute tooth.  The second hand sweeps, rather than ticks, around the dial.  And, rather than ticking, an Accutron hums.

With just 12 moving parts and a battery for power, the Accutron not only never needed winding, it was as accurate as its name suggests.  A battery meant there was no decay in power each day as the spring lost tension.  The tuning fork was practically impervious to positional errors.

1964 Bulova Accutron – powered by a tuning fork
1964 Bulova Accutron – powered by a tuning fork

Although the watch was accurate to just two seconds a day, this wasn’t that remarkable.  There were already mechanical watches running at this sort of rate.  But accurate watches had always been expensive, maintenance-intensive and relatively fragile.  What marked the Accutron out as different was its price, its freedom from the need for regular maintenance and its ease of use.  Accuracy had become democratic.

The button on the left pulls out to set the watch.
The button on the left pulls out to set the watch.

Accutrons have bounced along the bottom of the watch market since they fell out of favour in the 1970s.   As quartz took over, the Accutron and its heirs, the Omega Megasonic cal. 1220 and 1230, the Swissonic and the HiSonic, became little more than curiosities.  Now, they’re starting to become collectable in the mainstream.  The skeleton Spaceview, the Astronaut and gold-cased models are beginning to fetch serious prices.  Best not hang around if you want something historic in the watchbox that hums.

 

My guilty secret. Vintage digitals.

In theory, we should all love digis. Ask a digi-wearer the time and assuming he’s not an actuary, he’ll tell you, precise to the minute. It’ll be “five-forty-seven”; none of this vague and analogue “about quarter to six”. Digis are robust, never need servicing and are ready to go as soon as you drag them from the watchbox. But for most, they’re the watch equivalent of the slightly seedy uncle who insists that bri-nylon shirts are a good idea.

A G-Shock may still be as socially acceptable as a cartoon character tie, but that distant bleeping you can hear is the start of the vintage digi revolution. While most watchnerds have been busy drooling over the latest ultra-mech innovations, vintage digitals have been quietly lifted out of the musty charity shop glass cabinet into the auction catalogue.

There was even an LCD Speedie.
There was even an LCD Speedie.

It’s started with the earliest LED (light-emitting diode) glowing-digit Pulsars from the 1970s. To get a P2 under your paisley cuff in 1973 would have cost you $395. That’s $10 more than a Sub. Today, apart from being sufficiently well-built to double as a lump hammer, a decent early Pulsar P2, even in stainless steel, will set you back around £350. OK, that’s nowhere near the stratospheric rise of the Sub, but five years ago the ladies at your local Cats’ Protection League shop would have turned up their noses at it. For horological history at pocket-money prices, vintage digital can’t be beat. And, yes, it was the one Roger Moore wore in Live and Let Die… Making it the coolest digital ever made by default.

For example, an Omega TC1 – the Time Computer – Omega’s first venture into LED watches. Like the Pulsar (it shares much of the technology), its red LEDs peer out from an elegant case that feels as though it’s been hand-milled it from billet stainless. But you set the time, not with a button on the side or a crown, but by unclipping a tiny magnet from the strap’s clasp and placing it in special slots on the caseback. And you’ll find one of these – the first prestige digis – for under a thousand today.  To get a Pulsar P2 under your paisley cuff in 1973 would have cost you $395. That’s $10 more than a Sub.

But LED is for the truly dedicated; the digi-faithful who want a watch with a firm place in history. They are practical everyday timekeepers in the same way that an Aston Martin Lagonda would make a good daily driver. Move to LCD (liquid-crystal display) and more established brands and you’ll get a watch that will stand up to being used and where you don’t need to press a button to find out the time.

The early Seiko M series LCDs are a fine bet. They share the robustness of the Pulsars, but with rather more style and a less bulimic attitude to batteries. A chunk of 1970s cool for around £100. This M159 even has the address of its previous Californian owner’s ‘70s, ice-cold plateglass and concrete Capistrano Beach house engraved on the clasp.IMG_6853

Omega weren’t slow in developing their own movements. The cal. 1620 powered a series of new watches from the mid 1970s including this 1977 Constellation. Omega only produced the Constellation with the cal.1620 quartz LCD movement for 18 months. Typically for vintage digi, the movements are exceptionally well made – this one even has a tiny circuit jumper to change the display from 12 to 24 hours. But they weren’t around long. Back then, quartz was still wallet-meltingly expensive. One like this barely makes a dent today at around £500, but they’re going up fast. A '77 Omega Constellation. More functions than anyone had a right to in the '70s

And it’s a fascinating field. Who knew there was a digi version of the iconic Speedmaster and Seamaster, each sharing a calibre with the Constellation above? There’s the jam factor too – for most people, vintage digitals are just ‘old watches’, so there are still plenty of bargains around. The market has started to get smart though… you’ll be lucky to find an Omega or a Pulsar at the local jumble sale, but you can pick something remarkable up before most people get wise.

Omega LCD Constellation
Omega LCD Constellation

Significant mechanical history pieces are out of almost every watchlovers’ reach. Fancy an early Louis Moinet chronograph? Best take up burglary then. One of Rieussec’s? Time for the jemmy, stripey jumper and swag bag. But an example of the world’s first digi quartz chronograph? Get on the web, two clicks and it’s yours for under £500.

Digitals won’t be like this for ever. They’re unlikely to reach the stratospheric heights of vintage Patek or Rolex, but the signs are the better known brands are already on the up. Digis are engaging, a real piece of horological history and they won’t cost you a fortune. In fact, just sell your watchwinder and you could probably pick up a couple of good ‘uns.

This article originally appeared on the splendid, but now sadly deceased, Prodigal Guide. Now – even more splendidly – to be found on Medium: https://medium.com/the-prodigal-guide  

Rock ‘n Roll actually *is* noise pollution.

Oxford City Council has opened a consultation about the dreadful menace that is “non-compliant busking and street entertainment”. Presumably, this will mean that only council-sanctioned, compliant busking and entertainment will be – at a push – acceptable. In the meantime, there will have to be auditions…

Council-sanctioned fun only.
Council-sanctioned fun only.

The scene opens on a meeting room in the City Council offices. At a table sit a group of councillors and council officers.

Officer 1: (shouts) “NEXT!”

The door at the far end of the room opens and a musician peers nervously in, clutching a guitar case. He walks to the chair, puts the case down and sits.

Musician: “Hi – busking auditions?”

Councillor 1: Yes. That’s us. But before we listen to your, er, material, we need to make sure that it is properly compliant. Could you tell us what you propose to perform?

Musician: Yeah, no worries. I’m gonna sing some of the stuff I do on a Thursday night down the Bullingdon Arms.

He reaches down and starts taking out his guitar.

Officer 1: Just one moment, candidate. We’ll consider hearing you sing when we know more about your material. What songs do you believe are suitable for an Oxford audience?

Musician: Well, I do a bit of Zep. Thought I’d kick off with “Stairway to Heaven”.

The officers and councillors whisper as they confer.

Councillor 2: Ah. Have you completed an RA65?

Musician: RA65? Hang on – lemme check.

He reaches into his guitar case and pulls out a sheaf of forms.

Musician (mutters): Gender inclusiveness form…racial awareness form…climate change questionnaire…sustainability form…religious neutrality statement…

Nope. Don’t think I’ve got one of those.

Officer 3: (bristling) If you’re about to sing about “Stairway to Heaven” we’ll need to make sure there are no issues around working at heights.  So it’s a risk assessment, of course.

Councillor 3: I’m not sure about this “Heaven” business either. Don’t think we can really be seen to be promoting religious themes or upsetting people of different faiths. I really don’t think that one will be suitable.

Musician: But…

Councillor 1: (cutting him off) What else have you got?

Musician: Well, how about a bit of Thin Lizzy?

Officer 2: That could be acceptable… it certainly sounds as though it’s advocating healthy eating and weight loss.

Musician: Great! I could play “Whisky in the Jar”!

There’s a collective intake of breath around the table.

Officer 1: Oh no, no, no – that won’t be appropriate at all. If you really must, you should be promoting responsible drinking. Can’t you sing about something non-alcoholic instead?

Councillor 2: Come on, Nigel – I think you’re being a bit hasty here. It might be alright as long as the whisky stays IN the jar?

Officer 1: Well, we’d need to check the lyrics to ensure it’s properly compliant. (To the musician) Would you pass us a copy of the words, please?

The musician hands them over.

Officer 3: This won’t do at all. “I saw Captain Farrell and his money he was countin’.” – that’s obviously promoting the bribery of public officials in breach of Bribery Act of 2010. You’d need a firearms certificate for that next line – I’m assuming you don’t have one?

The musician shakes his head, baffled.

Officer 3: Suspected as much. And as for this: “Whack for my daddy-o” – that’s practically advocating domestic abuse.

Musician: (rather more subdued): How about a bit of Slade? You can’t argue with that – there’s The Slade in Oxford. Practically a local tune.

Councillor 2: That’s a fair point, candidate. What’s it called?

Musician: It’s one of their best – “Come on Feel the Noize”.

Officer 1: No.

Musician: “No”? But they’re an iconic British band!

Officer 1: Surely it’s obvious? Noise at the level where an Oxford resident can feel it would clearly be in contravention of the Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993. Haven’t you got anything a little more compliant?

Musician: Oh. Right. Sorry. I could try a couple of Muse numbers – how about “Psycho“?

Officer 2: Nope. Mental Health Act 1983.

Musician: Deep Purple? You can’t mind “Burn”, surely?

Councillor 1: What? In flagrant disregard of the Climate Change Act 2008 – and Oxford’s a Smokeless Zone. Next.

Musician: ZZ Top? How about ZZ Top? Surely they’re OK?

Officer 3: Maybe… which song?

Musician: Well, one of their best has got to be “Legs”. How about that?

Officer 3: No. Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Next.

Musician: OK. You win. The only other song I’ve got I know you’ll hate. And I’m not a fan of his stuff either. I think he’s a sexist git.

Officer 1: Don’t be so hasty – we’re the judges of what’s sexist here.

The musician rummages in his case and reluctantly hands over a song. The councillors and officers huddle around. Soon there are nods of approval.

Councillor 1: Why didn’t you show us this before?

It’s just what we’re after – First line, “Everybody get up…”, encouraging moderate exercise. “If you can’t hear what I’m trying to say…maybe I’m going blind…” Good, sound, inclusive lyrics, those. “If you can’t read from the same page” – just the thing – after all, we can’t promote elitism in literacy, can we?

Yes, yes, this will do splendidly.

I’m not sure about the songwriter’s name though. “Thicke” seems a little judgemental. Maybe if you changed it to…

The councillor is cut off in mid flow by the audition room door slamming shut.

Top Gear = Middle Lane

The camera pans onto the three new presenters of “Middle Lane”, the BBC’s replacement for the disgraced Top Gear.

They are John Prescott, Boris Johnson and Harriet Harman.  Each sits on a special chair, crafted from recycled Routemaster seats, complete with tartan upholstery.  Prescott gets two to himself.  They sit around a (fairtrade) coffee table made from bits of old railway sleeper.

Prescott: Fnarble wibble, where’s my Jag, blurble fnurble?

Harman: Now, now, Johnny. We all know that cars are inappropriate, don’t we?

Boris: (quickly) Oh yes, Harry – errr, absolutely!  Would you like a ride on my bicycle instead?

Harman: Boris! How many times to I have to explain?  My name is Harriet, not Harry – which is a male name and thus symbolic of masculine oppression.  And as for your bicycle, that’s just… ewwwwww!  What’s this?!IMG_0005

Harman, disgustedly with her thumb and forefinger, attempts to pull a blob of chewing gum, perviously attached to the bus seat, from her trouser suit.  The gum stretches as she does so.

Prescott: Harrrr, harrr, wibble, kids today, bless ’em, never allowed gum in me youth, shoebox in’t middle o’road, fnurgle…

Boris: Look, Harriet – don’t worry about that. It’s time for this week’s Mediocrity on a Reasonably Priced Bicycle.  And this week, we’re going to make sure everything’s fair – and nobody loses – by making sure the bicycle has flat tyres!

Harriet: What a splendid idea, Boris!  And let’s make it even fairer by not timing them either!

Prescott: Fnurble, schnurble, well, that won’t be very interesting, will it?!

Harriet: Now, now, John. It’s not about being interesting, is it?  It’s about being fair to everyone.

Harriet disappears offstage… the lights dim.  Then, a single spotlight picks out a white clad figure in a cycle helmet and anti-pollution mask.

Boris: Some say she can telepathically understand Stagecoach bus timetables.  Some say she’s even able to afford a first class rail ticket without dipping into her expenses.  All we know is…. she’s called The Prig!

The lycra-clad and anoracked audience erupts into polite clapping.  Off stage, the BBC Management Committee smile quietly to themselves.

How to start collecting watches.

Starting a watch collection is a dangerous thing.  Like most addictions (for it is just that) it sneaks up on you.  That first step – from having just one utility watch that tells the time to buying the second – seems simple.  “Just one,” you say, “I’ll get one good watch. I only need one. Just one. That’ll do me.”

That’s how everyone starts.  Soon, you’ll have Chrono24, Worn & Wound, Hodinkee and several watch dealers on bookmark.  You’ll have downloaded the WatchVille app to every device you own.  And you’ll be sneaking glances at the wrists of perfect strangers.  And, clearly, you’ll have burned a smoking, ragged hole in your chequebook.

This is normal.  At least, it is for a watch addict.  So, save some time.  Don’t kid yourself that ‘one watch is enough’.  It’s not.  The optimum number of watches is always n+1.  To save a little more time, here’s my list of the classics that every watchie should own at least once.

Rolex Submariner

1966 Rolex 5513 "metres first" Sub. From Oakleigh Watches.
1966 Rolex 5513 “metres first” Sub. From Oakleigh Watches.

 

Yes, I know it’s a cliche.  I know it’s the most faked watch in the known universe.  It’s also the second most splendid piece of form following function in watchworld.  Subs are lovely because they weren’t designed to be.  Before they ended up on the wrist of almost photocopier rep, they were proper diving tools.  So they’re instantly legible, hard to damage, waterproof (clearly) and never need winding up.

Mind you, given the life expectancy of a watch in most collections, perhaps their most endearing feature is their exceptional ease of re-sale.

Yours for anywhere between £2,500 and “HOW MUCH?! I could buy a house for that!”

Rolex Explorer I

1016
Rolex Explorer 1016, 1964, gilt dial.

 

If the Sub is the second most splendid piece of form following function, the Exp I is the first.  Designed to survive pretty much anything, the Exp is plain, clean and built like a safe.  Unlike the Sub, you won’t spend your life saying “Yes, it is real actually…” because no-one will ever spot it on your wrist. Except a fellow watchie.  And there are enough variants of the Exp 1, from gilt-dialed to modern, that you’ll never be bored.

Yours for anywhere between £2,400 and £20,000+

 

 

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

IMG_1707
JLC Reverso Classique, 2001

 

More refined but no less robust is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso (that’s “Jayjay Lecootrer”).  So called because the entire body of the watch flips over to present its caseback to the world.  Handy to protect your watchface when you’re playing polo, apparently.  Again, plenty of variants to choose.  There’s the smaller Classique (handy if you don’t have wrists like Herman Munster) right the way through to the socking great Répétition Minutes à Rideau.  You’ll see rather fewer of these around than their Rolex brethren.

Yours for anywhere between £1,500 and £150,000+

Navitimer2
Breitling Navitimer 01, with many thanks to Patrick Carr.

Breitling Navitimer

Another unashamed choice of a watch that had a job to do – keep ‘planes in the air.  The Navitimer was intended as a navigational aid for airmen, hence the sliderule on the bezel and dial.  They’re not small watches, but they do seem a lot smaller on the wrist than they should.  There’s a lot of history to enjoy too; from the 1952 806 right up to the “is that a clock on your wrist?” 48mm GMT Navitimer 01.

Yours for anywhere between £600 (quartz) and £1,800 (mech) to £40,000

Omega Speedmaster

Speedie
Omega Speedmaster 175.0032, 1990.

 

If the Navi kept aircraft up there, the Speedmaster kept Apollo 11 on track and helped get Apollo 13 back down again.  That’s reason enough to own one.  But add in the range of variations from model to model and there’s enough interest to keep you engaged for years.  And the Speedie is another reliable, robust, no-babying sort of watch that you can happily put on your wrist every day.

Yours for anywhere between £1,200 and £60,000 (limited editions)

IWC Mk XII

MkXII
IWC MkXII. Year unknown.

 

Another aviation watch, the Mk XII holds one of the most beautifully made movements in a watch you don’t need to sell your soul for.  It’s IWC’s reworked Jaeger LeCoultre 889/2.  And that horological gem alone is worth putting your hand in your pocket for.  XII’s are far from common, so if you want to own almost the opposite of the Sub, this one’s for you.  A wonderful, classic piece of watchmaking.

Yours for anywhere between £1,800 (stainless steel) to £5,000 (gold)

Grand Seiko

IMG_3933
Grand Seiko SBGX083.

 

OK. Calm down.  GS are about as far removed from the £40 Seikos you see in H Samuel as a Mitsuoka Viewt is from a MkII Jag.  GS are, in fact, the watch world’s inside secret.  The quality of Grand Seiko makes a lot of other far, far more expensive makers look a little red and shuffly as they stare at the floor.  Take a proper look at a GS and you’ll wonder how some other makers charge so much for poorer quality.  And, at the risk of kicking off a controversy match, a GS will have a proper authentic in-house movement.

Yours for anywhere between £700 (eye-wateringly accurate quartz) to £22,000 (platinum)

The main thing with watches is ‘buy what you like and what interests you’. I have a thing for functional things, don’t like bling and don’t buy new (so the prices above are all for secondhand kit).  Someone who’s into bling will steer you towards makers like Hublot and some of the more, er, ornamented Breitlings.

Someone with rather deeper pockets will head towards the rarified horological wonders of Patek Philippe. Someone with bottomless ones will snare Richard Mille‘s creations or Roger Smith‘s works of genius.  Someone with shallower ones will look at vintage Longines or perhaps some Heuers.  But even trawling the charity shops and Fleabay for £5 tickers will turn up something interesting.

The only problem is stopping once you’ve started.

What happens if your speedo breaks?

Imagine.  You’re driving – or riding – along and suddenly your speedometer breaks.  The dial in front of you suddenly reads zero and the needle’s not moving. You have absolutely no idea what speed you’re travelling at.

One question…

Can you still drive safely?

A 1967 Volvo Amazon speedometer and dashboard, with a straight, clear road ahead.
What happens when your speedo breaks?

The answer’s rather obvious, isn’t it?  There are probably not too many people who would stop immediately and put in a panic call to the AA.  And if they did, I suspect they’d be more concerned with legality than safety.  After all, no-one wants a £100 fine and a brown envelope through the post.

But if you can drive safely and you’re no more likely to crash or hit a pedestrian with no speedo, why do we place such a reliance on speed limits as road safety tools?  And why do we now talk about speed limits with an almost talismanic reverence?

This is from the South Yorkshire Safety Camera partnership:

You can help us to achieve our aim – and reduce the number of deaths and collisions on our roads. All you have to do is keep to the speed limit.

The Tayside Safety Camera partnership says:

Check your speedometer as frequently as you check your mirrors.

On many of Britain’s roads, where speed limits change as rapidly as the numbers on a fruit machine, drivers are constantly matching the number on their speedo to the number on the stick.  The Slower Speeds Initiative reinforces the case for ‘driving by numbers’ and quotes a TRL study that as little as a 1mph reduction in average speeds can reduce crashes by 5%.

But if a duff speedo is no impediment to safe driving, what is it instead?  If you can still drive safely with no speedo, that leaves the whole question of speed limits and their hardline and automated enforcement rather hanging.

Isn’t this a case of making what’s measurable important rather than measuring what’s important?  And, as a consequence, of mistaking compliance for safety?

I’d argue that we’ve taken relative speed and attempted to make it absolute, backed it with threats of prosecution, then reduced and reduced limits until they’ve become risible.  Leslie Hore-Belisha (who set the 30 limit in 1935) intended limits to reflect the behaviour of the majority.  People drove at 30mph – near as dammit – because it felt ‘right’ for urban roads.  We already know that people drive closer to 20mph on narrow residential streets without 20mph limits.  So it’s not those absolute, nicely round numbers making them safe, it’s the speed relative to their surroundings.

Speed limits are not physical absolutes.  By treating them as such, we’ve returned to the situation that led Stanley Buckmaster in 1931 to revoke them altogether and say “…the existing speed limit was so universally disobeyed that its maintenance brought the law into contempt.”  Of course, Lord Buckmaster didn’t have fleets of camera vans and digital camera technology to make sure the law was enforced.

So we’re back where we started – being concerned with legality rather than safety.  You could drive perfectly safely with no speedometer, but you couldn’t drive legally.  That means we’ve simply equated compliance with safety and backed it with ‘big stick’ automated enforcement.

Driving by numbers.  The same principle as “paint by numbers” but a great deal more dangerous.

“Simple, neat and wrong.”

After years of falls, road deaths are rising.  In fact, they’re rising fast enough for the Department for Transport to pre-releasing figures and ministers to start getting their defence in early.

UK transport minister Robert Goodwill warned a parliamentary road safety conference last week to prepare for “bad news” ahead of Thursday’s announcement, telling attendees to expect a “rise” in road fatalities.

H.L. Mencken said: “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”  He could have been describing the UK’s road safety policy.  This isn’t about a fall in the numbers of traffic police, this is about a road safety policy that has focused on what’s measurable rather than what’s important.  And, worse, it has simplified the complexity of safe driving to priggish, dimity little slogans like ‘twenty’s plenty’ and ‘speed kills so kills your speed’.

What’s happened?  We have cars and motorcycles with the most advanced passive safety ever.  We’ve seen those passive safety features, like ABS and traction control, give us safer and safer roads.  When drivers do get it wrong, we’ve got active safety that deploys airbags, pre-tensions seatbelts and stops cars being death traps.

Minster Lovell calming crash Sept 6 09-1

Yet now we’re seeing fatalities and serious injuries rising.

Why?

The honest truth is that no-one really knows.  And that’s because road safety has become a single issue game and the politicians and road safety groups are sat around with their fingers in their ears singing “la la la can’t hear you”.

Driving a car or riding a motorcycle is the most complex thing you’ll do today.  Your level of observation, anticipation, evaluation of environmental and vehicle feedback and psychomotor skills would blindside any computer yet built.  And that’s before you factor in your constant interactions with other drivers, evaluating their actions and planning for what they’ll do next.

Get on a motorcycle and it gets even more complex. Keep a machine upright through corners when it’s naturally unstable, plus all the other stuff.

Yet, according to current road safety policy, all we have to do to be safe is match a number on a dial to a number on a stick.  And if we don’t, there are cameras of many different varieties to make sure we get slapped and our liberty curtailed.  We’ve delegated the complexity of solving the road safety problem to a combination of yellow boxes on poles enforcing frequently changing, arbitrary speed limits on sticks.

It’s drive-by-numbers.  And, like paint by numbers, it’s a dreadful, lumpy facsimile of the real thing.

Given the importance of speed limits, you would think, wouldn’t you, that the numbers on those sticks would be scientifically robust, backed up by hard evidence and – ideally – as close to physical absolutes as possible.  It would be tragic to think that they’re simply set by your local councillor, terrified of losing votes, against the advice of the local police force.

But that’s what’s happening.

Why, despite millions spent on lower limits, cameras, bumps, humps and hardline speed-enforcement, are deaths not falling?  Because we’ve decided that the complexity of real road safety is politically unacceptable.  And we’ve replaced it with a sort of no-carrot-and-lots-of-stick donkey policy.  Speed cameras are binary.  You’re either legal or not.  Safety doesn’t come into it.  And if you’re illegal, you get a slap.  We’ve traded safety for compliance.

Binary solutions don’t – and can’t – work with complex problems.  And you can’t get the sort of behaviour we need from drivers if they’re constantly expecting a slap.

Speed is certainly a simple enough issue to address superficially. Put up cameras, paint them whatever colour you like, raise fines, put in new, ultra-low blanket speed limits, change them every half mile and propose stiff new penalties for exceeding them, then watch the accident figures tumble. Sadly, as we have seen today, they are not tumbling.

Speed cameras, traffic calming and lowered speed limits encourage the majority of drivers to think that it’s easy – by sticking to a limit they are safe – when nothing could be further from the truth. Poor drivers driving slowly crash at lower speeds – but they still crash and they still kill people. Do we believe this is acceptable?

We need to refocus the road safety debate away from speed limits and on to the much more complex and politically unpalatable subject of driver standards, education and training. It’s only when we recognise how complex the driving process is and educate all road users accordingly that we’ll stop killing people.