From my lofty perch inside the Toyota Hilux I’ve been driving lately I’ve seen many things. I’m no stranger to chunky 4x4s and pick-ups and what many owners say about feeling safe thanks to the raised driving is largely true. You can also see much further ahead than someone low down in, say, a Ford Focus, which helps enormously when it comes to spotting hazards on the road.
Granted, the elevated driving position, Tonka toy styling of the Hilux and its go (almost) anywhere potential can make you feel a little warm and smug inside whenever the weather throws a wet and windy wobbly. I’m not so smug that I’ll go charging through every single puddle I see, but there’s no question that like the water levels in nearby fields my confidence level rises slightly when crossing flooded fords.
Irresponsible you say? Not a bit of it if I’m honest. I know my limits – which are usually considerably lower than whatever vehicle I’m driving – and I’m smart enough to take sat-nav instructions with a big bag of salt if it’s starting to look and sound fishy. So, in summary, there will be no distress calls from the middle of a too-deep-for-your-car ford or photographic evidence of me stuck fast in a too-narrow-for-your-SUV access road.
The subject of responsible driving reared its ugly head again after recently passing a lone police motorcyclist undertaking speed checks on the arrow-straight A14. As the distant yellow dot got bigger as I approached it, I couldn’t imagine a more inappropriate advert for road safety. We’re all told of the dangers of stopping on hard shoulders, yet here was local law enforcement spending his afternoon playing with a glorified laser pointer with nothing more than a fluorescent jacket for protection against three lanes of 70mph traffic.
What was he going to do if his toy gun spotted someone doing a very big speed? Would he jump on his bike and chase after them at, er speed, risking life and limb in the process? That the road in question, and its users, was covered by a permanent average speed camera set-up made the exercise even more futile.
What would have been of greater value would have been an effort to stop and charge people for using their mobile phones whilst driving. At ground level you’ll struggle to see such activity, but from my lofty perch inside the Hilux I was privy to all sorts of stupid behaviour from map reading to one bloke using an iPad. Yes, you read that right, an iPad. But that’s okay because he was sticking to the speed limit and PC Hard Shoulder wouldn’t have been any the wiser.
Some time ago a certain police force decided to drive around in a lorry tractor unit to spot such behaviour as they realised that the lofty driving position was advantageous. Tales of witnessing mobile phone use when on the move and other more loopy activities – shaving, applying make up – soon flowed to the local press and the experiment was deemed a great success. Either I’ve gone deaf and blind or it’s not been repeated because I’ve nothing since that one-off media stunt, which is a shame.
Such activities continue because drivers know they’re not going to get caught when all the police are interested in is taking pictures of you from afar in van on a bridge. I’m a vocal critic of unmarked speed patrols for a variety of reasons, but there’s a lot to be said for the use of unmarked driver behaviour patrols. And you don’t need an expensive truck – just use a Hilux. That that really would be money well spent.