18 July 2007

The Freedom of the Road 1896-2007

The Freedom of the Road, that cherished tenet of British democracy that has allowed motorists over a hundred years of carbon footprint- to-the-floor driving, has crashed and burned after the announcement of plans to allow police to use traffic cameras to investigate all forms of crime, from minor matters such as terrorism all the way up to thinking bad thoughts about the government and failing to love Big Brother (in either its literary or televisual form).

The Freedom of the Road was granted to motorists at – absolutely coincidentally – the same time as it was denied to pedestrians accustomed to sauntering absent-mindedly along the middle of the Queen’s highway without a care in the world(1), a custom which still persists in many parts of East Anglia and throughout London and other cities during the rush hour.

As men, some uppity suffragette types and even toads(2) began to bowl down the tarmacadam at ever-increasing speeds, Britain’s motorists began a long and heady affair with The Freedom of the Road - the freedom to journey hither and yon at speeds of up to eight miles per hour in their mighty Edmunds & Wadden Autotrix cyclecar free from worry or the fear that they may have a daguerreotype of their likeness passed to the police in the event that they may be in the act of committing a crime or imagining what Queen Victoria’s ankles looked like.

In the twentieth century thinking about the monarch’s disrobed ankles gave way to thinking about how to drive further and faster without a care in the world – or even the slightest suspicion that the AA man was saluting you to get you to turn your good side to the hidden camera as he secretly photographed you for MI5's files.

However motorists’ freedoms began to be eroded faster than Richard Hammond in a race against Jeremy Clarkson and James May, as the right to speed through residential areas, blunder the wrong way down the motorway, pick your nose at traffic lights or even drive a burning 4x4 into an airport terminal were heavy-handedly outlawed.

Motorists soon found themselves hampered by sleeping policemen, speed cameras, the high cost of petrol and millions of other white-knuckled, grim-faced speed-freaks clogging up the roads in their own pursuit of The Freedom of the Road. A nation of voyeurs who spent weeks watching a dozen morons people trapped in a TV studio every summer, became incensed at the thought of being photographed up to 300 times day in central London as they inched forward in first gear thinking about watching a dozen morons people trapped in a TV studio every summer.

The decision by the Home Office to give police access to traffic cameras in real-time rather than applying for the data on a case-by-case basis – or subscribing to Sky’s top-rating 24-hour Traffic Jam Channel – was the last potato in the exhaust pipe and The Freedom of The Road came to a sudden stop with a Flash! Bang! Wallop!

The Freedom of the Road will be buried at the St Alastair Stewart Church of Police, Camera, Action! The mourners will sing along to a selection of turgid mid-1970s guitar-based anthems from the Best of Top Gear CD while being photographed by undercover coppers posing as mourners. The service will be sponsored by Snappy Snaps and the driver of the hearse will be arrested and taken to Guantanamo Bay for thinking about picking his nose at a traffic light as he heads home.

(1) especially insofar as such cares related to being run over
(2) The As A Dodo editorial team must apologise at this point for the sloppy work by the junior staffer who prepared this piece, who appears to believe that Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows contains an accurate record of motoring in the Edwardian era.