Spray lets drivers get away with murder

IMAGINE you saw on open sale, a product designed to let terrorists get away scot free.Or a device for enabling paedophiles to go unpunished. Or gun crime undetected.

IMAGINE you saw on open sale, a product designed to let terrorists get away scot free.

Or a device for enabling paedophiles to go unpunished. Or gun crime undetected.

What would be your reaction - or any sane reaction?

Now consider this: a product whose only purpose is to make vehicle number-plates unreadable by speed cameras. Such a product not only exists, it's readily available to buy as a spray, even being promoted as a Christmas 'bestseller'.

Think about that a moment. In your Christmas stocking could be a product designed solely to help criminals - potentially deadly criminals - to get away with it.

But hang on, you're thinking, cheating the speed cameras isn't like terrorism, paedophilia or gun crime.

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Isn't it?

In 2004, the most recent year for which full figures are available, there were 73 gun murders in Britain.

That sounds a lot - until you compare it with the 3,221 people who were killed on the roads.

In total, 412 gun crimes led to serious injuries. As against 34,351 victims of serious injury on the roads.

Meanwhile, the sum total of reported UK deaths attributed to terrorist or paedophile activity was zero.

So no, speeding on the roads isn't like gun crime, terrorism or paedophilia - it's much, much more likely to kill you or your children.

At this point the defenders of motorists' freedoms will cry: “It isn't speed that kills, it's inappropriate speed.”

Which is perfectly true. It's reasonably safe to travel on an open motorway at speeds that would be highly dangerous in town.

But the point about speed limits is that they are designed to make your speed appropriate.

They may be a slightly clumsy device. In some places I think they are set too high while in others - such as most motorways - they are probably lower than they need to be.

But they are the best system we've got. And the purpose of speed cameras is to try to make that system work.

Going out equipped to avoid being caught speeding is going out equipped to commit crime. Presumably intent on doing so.

How the makers and sellers of a spray designed to “dazzle” speed cameras can claim it's perfectly legal is beyond me, though they do. Surely it's illegal to abet or encourage crime?

They say they don't condone speeding. Then what is the point of the spray?

Not much, according to the policeman I asked. He told me privately that the sprays don't really work. If a car is photographed travelling fast enough, or dangerously enough, to seriously interest the police, they can digitally enhance the image enough to read the plate.

It is an offence to drive with obscured or unreadable plates. You might suppose that means it must be readable to the human eye, not to computerised optical equipment - but it would be an interesting test case.

Meanwhile, as writers on a certain other newspaper like to say, our dossier has been handed to the police.

HOW good is your memory? Mine's pretty sharp for words and quiz-type trivia, rather poor for numbers and lousy for things like where I last left my glasses.

As for exactly who is where on a group outing - well, just the other day we managed to lose someone on a family walk in Woodbridge.

An elephant, it seems, wouldn't have had that trouble. Not that you get many elephants in Woodbridge…

Research on wild elephants in Kenya suggests they are able to keep close tabs on up to 30 relatives spread over a wide area.

Dr Richard Byrne of St Andrews University concludes: “It may be that where elephants really excel is not in remembering things for very long periods but in everyday working memory.”

Meanwhile another research project in Japan found that five-year-old chimpanzees out-performed university students in memory tests involving numbers.

Makes you question just what it means to be human, doesn't it?

“Higher” than other animals? I don't think so.

More dangerous and destructive, certainly.

And of course elephants and chimps don't conduct experiments on us. As far as we know.