More Motorphobia

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

More Motorphobia is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in the Daily Mail on 21 september 1905.

More Motorphobia

Daily Mail (21 september 1905, p. 4)

To the Editor of the "Daily Mail."

Sir, — I have observed some caustic comments in your recent issues upon the action of the Andover Bench, who appear to be assuming a position not unlike those feudal barons who exacted tribute from all who passed through their territories.

A similar band of reactionary officials have terrorised this Guildford district during the summer. The energy of the police in seizing motorists, and that of the magistrates in taking their money, is exactly equal in both places, for there were seventy-one captures and seventy-one convictions in each. Surely these figures speak for themselves.

Can any sane person imagine that policemen, with their promotion in view and every human motive to make them lean towards an aggravation of the evidence, would be right on every single occasion? Even with a perfectly impartial mind it is no easy task to measure a fast machine exactly over a furlong, where a few seconds one way or the other make all the difference on the estimate of the mile. The least slowness in taking time at one end, or the least fastness at the other, vitiates the whole result.

But in the face of such figures motorists plead guilty, for there is clearly no discretion and no hope of fair play. They simply note the fact, now notorious, that it is dangerous to drive with any speed upon a lonely country road, but that it is safe elsewhere, for it is only on the lonely roads that traps are set. Such is the result of administering a law according to the letter and not the spirit.

To show the length to which the police will go to secure a catch I may quote my own experience recently at Folkestone, a town of which motorists should beware.

I was approaching it for the first time along a wide and deserted road when I was stopped by the usual vidette. On turning back I discovered three other constables lying with their instruments in a graveyard which skirted the road. It was a Sunday, and these skulkers upon consecrated ground seemed utterly blind to the fact that if I had indeed exceeded by a few seconds the legal time they had themselves, if words have any meaning, been guilty of the rather more serious offence of sacrilege. The magistrate in taking my money remarked with heavy jocularity that unless I were mulct I would no doubt kill several people - I, who have never hurt nor frightened a soul in three years' constant driving.

Yours faithfully,

Arthur Conan Doyle.
Undershaw, Hindhead, Haslemere.