From the archive: are you fit to drive? October 1973

The man on the cover of the Observer Magazine of 14 October 1973 looks a little like racing driver James Hunt in an incongruous tweed jacket but with a helmet of hair rather than… a helmet. ‘Are you fit to drive?’ it asked, referring to driving rather than dress sense.

‘All the indications are,’ wrote Paulette Pratt, ‘that many drivers have serious defective eyesight. Nearly a third of a million motorists are driving with vision below even the primitive standard required by law; a further 900,000 can only reach this standard with one eye.’ Being pulled over and asked why you are driving with one eye closed and giving the excuse ‘because that’s the one that passes the primitive standard required by law’ probably wouldn’t have cut it as an excuse, even in the early 70s.

There followed a multiple choice section to check your own roadworthiness. ‘A typically serious car crash is shown above. Do you (a) Find it difficult to bring yourself to study the picture? (b) Find yourself searching for every detail? (c) Know that the picture will stay in your mind, as other, similar pictures, have done? (d) Know that, horrific as it is, it will soon have been put out of your mind?’

‘Answers (a) and (c) betray an emotional response’ – heaven forfend! – ‘a tenseness and, in the case of (a), a timidity. But provided that the worrying and dwelling on horror does not detract, (c) is probably the best response.’ Surprisingly, if you answered (b) it doesn’t suggest you seek psychiatric help, but that you have ‘misplaced curiosity and, in a driving situation, maybe the kind of behaviour that could lead to obstruction’.

As for ‘What do you think about seatbelts?’, if you thought they should be made compulsory, then you are ‘likely to be someone stubborn and self-righteous and capable of aggravating an already-difficult road situation’. It’s a wonder that ‘Clunk click every trip’ ever took hold.


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