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On the slow road to happiness. By Tom Hodgkinson

Blog | By Tom Hodgkinson | Feb 20, 2024

Illustration by Robert Thompson

Cities can be dangerous places for a mouse. There are hazards everywhere. As Dr Johnson noted in his poem London:

‘Here malice, rapine, accident conspire

Now a rabble rages, now a fire.’

To these ever-present threats, we could add the new motorised menaces that prowl the streets. In this mouse’s words:

Now kamikaze drivers cause mouse to burrow-creep

And juggernauts unfeeling disrupt his precious sleep.

Conscious of the dangers of speed to life, limb and tail, I have welcomed the recent introduction in London of a 20mph speed limit, whether driving a car or riding my bicycle. At first, slowing the car down to 20mph required a bit of an effort. It seemed unnatural. But soon you get used to cruising at a slow speed. It makes driving less stressful. And journeys take no longer, because of all the traffic lights.

And, for bikes, it’s bliss. The streets feel less perilous. Add to that the multiplication of bicycle lanes and we appear to be moving towards the two-wheel-friendly environment of Copenhagen.

What’s more, speed kills and slowness saves lives. A campaigning website called 20’s Plenty quotes research on the effects of the slowdown on bicycle-related injuries in London: ‘The introduction of 20mph limits,’ it says, ‘is linked to 21%-lower injury odds for people who are cycling compared to 30mph roads.’

The Welsh government introduced a slowdown across the whole country in September last year. Every town now has a 20mph limit. A vocal minority of Welsh residents are griping, but this looks like an excellent policy. Towns should put people first and motorists second.

Slowness is good and makes the streets safer for mice and all the animals of the towns. A lot of my friends – the foxes – have moved into the city lately and are making a very good life for themselves. They love the slowdown, and so do I. It makes the city more convivial.

As an advocate of slowness, I was shocked to receive a letter from the police notifying me that I’d been caught speeding.

‘But I am such a sensible mouse!’ I thought. The Devon police told me I’d been caught by a speed camera going at 38mph in a 30mph zone at 11 at night on a rural road near Totnes. I had the option of paying a £100 fine and getting three points added to my licence, or taking a speed-awareness course.

I was already very aware of the dangers of speed and so was about to pay the fine and get the points, and wait for them to go away.

Then Mrs Mouse chipped in. ‘I’ve done two of these courses and they’re very good fun,’ she said, ‘and interesting, too.’

So it was that eight of us gathered for a Zoom call one afternoon with an amiable Brummie instructor called Rocky.

Rocky told us that around 1,700 people are killed on the roads in the UK each year. Fifteen years ago this figure was nearly 3,000, which shows that great strides have been made. He added that there are 25,208 serious injuries, and that, luckily for an urban mouse, the countryside is more dangerous.

Fifty-six per cent of all fatalities happen on rural roads. This means the Devon police were more sensible than I thought when imposing a 30mph limit. And it’s something worth considering by any oldies planning a move to the country.

Thirty-eight per cent of deaths happen on urban roads, while motorways account for only six per cent. Motorways are safer because there are no pedestrians and not much activity. I have advised my friends the badgers to stay away from them, all the same.

Participants on the course told Rocky they tended to break the speed limit when they were late. So Rocky gave us a few tips, such as leaving earlier and setting two alarms. Another suggestion was to give a vague arrival time to allow for delays. ‘Mum, I’m aiming to be there between three and four.’

He also pointed out that speeding doesn’t get you there any faster. The bloke who zoomed past you a minute ago is sitting at the same set of traffic lights as you.

I emerged with a determination to drive even more slowly than ever. It’s a win-win.