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Lesson 28

                     Are Cars Doing More Harm Than Good?

                                         Text

                       Cars Only Bring Peogle Trouble

    Today any Chinese can enjoy the luxury of owning a private car--if he can afford it, that is. And to be able to afford it, you have first of all to pay a five or six figure sum to buy a machine. Even the toylike Polish midget Fiat costs something
like 20,000 yuan. Any decent car would cost ten times that much.

    But however large this initial sum you have to pay, the real drain on your purse is yet to come, in the running and maintenance of the machine--the various taxes, the fuel, and of course the repairs. The last item especially is a bottomless
pit. Any single repair may cost you thousands. If your car is of foreign make and you have to change a spare part, then God help you!


    The financial burden is not your only worry. When you buy a car, you are like an elderly.man who marries a young wife. You have to guard her jealously, and protect her from prowling wolves who are constantly at your gate. A famous violinist who bought a second-hand car last year had to buy a pair of binoculars at the same time too, because he had to watch the car from his window every few minutes. Not only the car itself, but accesories such as rear-view mirrors, batteries, even wheels are all objects of prey.


    I once read about a man in Shanghai who had the luck to win a car in a savings' lottery. Of course it was the cheapest of all cars, a Polish midget Fiat mentioned above. Nevertheless for the rnan who won it, it was the chance of a life time, and he could hardly believe in his own luck. But his joy was short-lived, for the troubles that followed were enough to put any man into utter despair.

    First of all he couldn't get a license plate. He was sent from place to place, and after months of running around and after having handed out around four thousand yuan ( the greater part of which as "good will gifts") he finally became the proud legal owner of the car.


    But his troubles were by no means over. Like the violinist, he found he had to guard his newly-wedded "bride" from all sorts of violations. In fact the whole family had to take turn s for the "night shift", which meant sleep in the car to protect her from night prowlers. Our friend had the hardest time because he is a tall fellow with long limbs.For him to sleep in a toy-like midget car was literally a form of torture. When he clarnbered out of the car in the morning, he found he could hardly walk. Obviously things couldn't go on like that and so in the end he found a place to park his car for the night-in a school about two bus-stops away. The distance was noth ing compared with the parking fee he had to pay the school every month.But the greatest inconvenience was the fact that he had to get his car out of the school before eight every morning when school starts.


    With conditions as they are in our country, one may well wonder who would ever want to own a private car. According to officially published figures, there were over 4,000 private cars in Beijing at the beginning of this year. That's a big leap from just over a hundred five years ago-a forty times increase. But in proportion to Beijing's population, the figure is piteously low, probably the lowest compared to other capitals in the world.


II . Read
    Read the following passages. Underline the important viewpoints while reading.

                        1. The Advantages of the Car

    The use of the motor car is becoming more and more widespread in the twentieth century. As an increasing number of countries develop both technically and economically, so a larger proportion of the world's population is able to buy and use a car. Possessing a car gives a much greater degree of mobility, enabling the driver to move around freely. The owner of a car is no longer forced to rely on public transport and is, therefore, not compelled to work locally.

He can choose from a greater variety of jobs and probably changes his work more frequently as he is not restricted to a choice within a small radius. Travelling to work by car is also more comfortable than having to use public transport, the driver can adjust the heating in winter and the air conditioning in summer to suit his own needs and preference. There is no irritation caused by waiting for trains, buses or underground. trains, standing in long patient queues, or sitting on draughty platforms, for as long as half an hour sometimes. With the building of good fast motorways long distances can be covered rapidly and pleasantly. For the first time in fhis century also, many people are now able to enjoy their leisure time to the full by making trips to the country or seaside at the weekends, instead of being confined to their immediate neighbourhood. This feeling of independence, and the freedom to go where you please, is perhaps the greatest advantage of the car.

 

                        2. The Drawbacks of the Car

    When considering the drawbacks, perhaps pollution is of prime importance. As more and more cars are produced and used, so the emission from their exhaust pipes contains an ever larger volume of poisonous gas. Some of the contents of this gas, such as lead, not only pollute the atmosphere but cause actual harm to the health of people. Many of the minor illness of modern industrial society, headaches, tiredness, and stomach upsets are thought to arise from breathing polluted air. Doctors' surgeries are full of people suffering from illness caused by pollution.

 

It is also becoming increasingly difficult to deal with the problem of traffic in towns. Most of the important cities of the world suffer from traffic congestion. In fact, any advantage gained in comfort is often cancelled out in city by the frustration caused by traffic jams, endless queues of cars crawling bumper to bumper through all the main streets. As an increasing number of traffic regulation schemes are devised, the poor bewildered driver finds himself diverted and forced into one-way systems which cause even greater delays than the traffic jams they are supposed to prevent. The soaring cost of petrol and the increased licence fees and road tax all add to the driver's worries In fact, he must sometimes wonder if the motor car is such a boon, or just a menace.

 

                3. Cars Are the Major Cause of Road Accidents

    From the health point of view we are living in a marvellous age. We are immunised from birth against many of the most dangerous diseases. A large number of once fatal illnesses can now be cured by modern drugs and surgery. It is almost certain that one day remedies will be found for the most stubborn remaining disease. The expectation of life has increased enormously. But though the possibility of living a long and happy life is greater than ever before, every day we witness the incredible slaughter of men, women and children on the roads. Man versus the motor-car! It is a never- ending battle which man is losing. Thousands of people the world over are killed or horribly mutilated each year and we are quietly sitting back and letting it happen.


    It has been rightly said that when a man is sitting behind a steering wheel, his car becomes the extension of his personality. There is no doubt that the motor-car often brings out a man's very worst qualities. People who are normally quiet and pleasant may become unrecognizable when they are behind a steering-wheel. They swear, they are ill-mannered and aggressive, wilful as two-year-olds and utterly selfish. All their hidden frustrations, disappointments and jealousies seem to be brought to the surface by the act of driving.


    The surprising thing is that society smiles so benignly on the motorist and seems to condone his behaviour. Everything is done for his convenience. Cities are allowed to become almost uninhabitable because of heavy traffic; towns are made ugly by huge car parks; the countryside is desecrated by road networks; and the mass annual slaughter becomes nothing more than a statistic, to be conveniently forgotten.


     With regard to driving, the laws of some countries are notoriously lax and even the strictest are not strict enough. The driving test should be standardised and made far more difficult than it is; all drivers should be made to take a test every three years or so; the age at which young peopleare allowed to drive any vehicle should be raised to at least 21; all vehicles should be put through stringent annual tests for safety.Even the smallest amount of alcohol in the blood can impair a person's driving ability.

 Present drinking and driving laws (where they exist) should be made much stricter. Maximum and minimum speed limits should be imposed on all roads. These measures may sound inordinately harsh, but surely nothing should be considered as too severe if it results in reducing the annual toll of human life. After all, the world is for human beings, not motor-cars.

 

                             4. Road Accidents

    There are far too many road accidents in this country: too many deaths and too many people injured. One wonders who are most to blame: drivers or pedestrians. Some people say that the blame cannot be put fairly without considering the roads and the whole transport system. In crowded cities like London, Birmingham or Manchester, road conditions are so chaotic that both driver and pedestrian often endanger lives through no fault of their own. Such deficiencies as too many road signs, faulty traffic lights, sudden narrowing of a street, congested parking are all a sure indication of bad ioad conditions. On the other hand, many experts are convinced that the larger part of the blame for the death toll must be put on persons and persons alone: drivers who drive too fast and without any consideration for others, drivers who think they are safe at the wheel even though they have drunk too much alcohol, drivers who, out of some curious sense of power, are incapable of understanding that their car is a lethal weapon if improperly used. Pedestrians, likewise, must share the guilt: stepping off the pavement without first looking to the left or right, crossing roads when the traffic lights are against them, jumping off a moving bus. To be fair, pedestrians, drivers and road conditions are all to blame.
    One looks forward to the day when the motor car has been replaced by some less dangerous means of transport.

 

                       5. At the Scene of the Accident

Policeman:   Now, sir, I,m sorry to have kept you waiting. I had to look after the  
  traffic on the road until some more police arrived. You,re the driver
  of the blue car, I believe.
Mr.Simpson:   Yes.
Policeman:   Just a few questions, sir. Do you feel all right?
Mr.Simpson:   Yes, I'm... I'm fine now. I was a little shaken up at first.
Policeman:   Well, I'll try not to keep you long. I just want a few details, and the 
  rest of the information I can get tomorrow. Can I have your name and
  address, please?
Mr.Simpson:   Jeremiah Simpson, 15 Portland Crescent, Leeds.
Policeman:   Have you got your driving licence and insurance certificate with you?
Mr.Simpson:   Yes... Oh, here they are.
Policeman:   M'hm... Thank you... Oh... Yes, they're all right. Now, were there any
  passengers in the car?

 

Mr.Simpson   Er yes, er my wife and a friend - a young lady. My wife was itting
  in the back and her friend in the front passenger seat.
Policeman:   Where are they now?
Mr.Simpson:   The ambulance has just taken them to hospital. You spoke to the
  ambulance driver before he set off. Did he say anything about
  the young lady?
Policeman:   He said that her injuries looked worse than they really were. The other  
  woman--that'd be your wife, I assume--appeared to be suffering from
  shock.
Mr.Simpson:   Yes, I know. They advised her to go to hospital for a check-up, just in
  case.
Policeman:   Mm. Was the young lady wearing her seatbelt?
Mr.Simpson:   No, unfortunately. I told her to put it on, but she couldn't adjust it. 
  I didn't think it was worth stopping the car because we were only
  going a few miles.

 

Policeman:   Did she go through the windscreen?
Mr.Simpson:   No, she was very lucky. But she hurt her leg on the dashboard.
Paliceman:   Mm. It could've been much worse. Now, sir, will you tell me in your own
  words what happened?
Mr.Simpson:   Oh... Well, as you can see, I was travelling along this?main road when 
  suddenly er the other car came out of er that sidestreet. It all
  happened so quickly. I just didn't see him until he hit me.
Policeman:   I've just spoken to the other motoriest and he says that you were
  speeding.
Mr.Simpson:   What?
Policeman:   Is this true?
Mr.Simpson:   That,s a lie. My wife and Becky'll tell you that I stopped at the  away. 
  pedestrian crossing just down there. You can see it's only fifty yards
  I could hardly have reached thirty miles an hour by the time I got here.
  Goodness knows what would've happened if I'd been going faster.

 

Policeman:   The other driver said that he stopped at the junction. When he pulled
  out there was nobody coming, so you must have been speeding.
Mr.Simpson:   Well, it' s not true. I've witnesses to prove it. He couldn't have
  stopped. The lighting is very good here along this stretch
Policeman:   Yes.He should have stopped.Why did you stop at the pedestrian crossing?
Mr.Simpson:   There were two old ladies on it. I'm always a bit careful with old 
  people because they're likely to walk across the road without looking
  properly.
Policeman:   I shouldn't worry, sir. We don't think you were speeding--even without 
  measuring the skid marks.
Mr.Simpson:   Er, was he-er, the other driver-drunk?
Policeman:   I don't know yet.He's admitted that he's had one or two drinks,but says  
  it was only two half-pints. We're going to give him a breathalyser test
  to see whether he's over the limit. If he is, he'll be asked to have a
  blood test.

 

Mr.Simpson:   Well, I haven't touched a drop all night!
Policeman:   No, sir. It's surprising how much a driver's breath smells even if he's  
  only had one drink. Well, sir, I don't think I need to detain you
  any longer. We shall want written statements from you, your wife and
  the young lady tomorrow.
Mr.Simpson:   Yes... What'll happen to my car? It's obvious that with that
  badly-damaged wheel I shan't be able to drive it.
Policeman:   We'il have to take some measurements of the skid marks and the
  positions of the cars. We' 11 arrange to have it towed away when we've  
  finished. If you ring the police station tomorrow, they'll tell you what
  to do.

 

Mr.Simpson   Thank you very much.
Policeman   Oh, er, by the way, is the young lady staying with you?
Mr.Simpson   No, she's a friend of my wife. She's staying at the Station Hotel.
  Her name is er Becky Softe. She has a friend with her and she'll need to
  be told about the accident, I suppose. I--I don,t know...
Policeman   We'll see to that. I expect you'll want to go to the hospital
  to see how your wife is.
Mr.Simpson   Yes, er I must go there now. I told my wife to wait there until I could
  collect her in a taxi. I hope they don't keep her in.
Policeman   If you feel well enough, you can get a taxi just around the next corner.
Mr.Simpson   Yes, I'm fine. Goodnight.
Policeman    Goodnight.

                 

                        6. The Alcohol Limit and the Punishment

    The limit of the amount of alcohol a driver is allowed to have in his blood is 80 milligrams for every 100 millilitres of blood: that is about one and a half litres of beer, or one double whisky.
    If the driver is convicted of "being drunk while in charge of a motor vehicle", the usual sentence is a ) a heavy fine. b ) disqualification from driving for 12 months.
    If the driver causes an accident, the sentence can be stricter. For example, a drunken driver who killed a pedestrian was sent to prison for 9 months, as well as being fined and losing his licence for a year. (A demonstrator who destroyed a tennis court as a protest was sent to prison for 18 months.)

 

                    7. How Do Police Detect Drunk Drivers

    If the police suspect you of having drunk more than the limit (see above) they can ask you to blow into a breathalyser, which is a plastic bag; if the crystals inside turn green, the police can take you to a police station and take a blood sample. If the driver has had a drink less than 20 minutes before he is stopped, the breathalyser cannot be used.
    Officially the police can stop you only if they think you are driving badly, but in practice they sometimes simply stop drivers, and give them the breathalyser test.

 

                 8. Different Opinions on the Alcohol Limit

    Chief Inspector Kale (Head of Southern Police) would like the alcohol limit lowered and sentences made tougher.
    Mrs. Nash (a lawyer) is often professionally involved in drinking and driving cases. She thinks judges are too kind, and that seniences should be made tougher.
Dr.Smalby has been asked to explain the effects of alcohol. He says fhat it slows down reactions, and affects vision.
    Mrs.Houghton, whose six-year-old son, Tommy, was killed by a drunken driver. She thinks the driver should have been sent to prison for life.


    Mr.Lambert knocked down a pedestrian while slightly drunk. He feels very guilty, and is convinced it would not have happened if he had not had a few drinks.
    Mr.Crosby lost his licence six months ago, and, as a result, his job. He feels he was driving quite properly, and that the law was, and is, far too stiict.
     Mrs.Austin lost her licence after having three whiskies. She was driving because her husband was drunk. She thinks she drives perfectly well after three whiskies and that the law is unfair.
    James Connery (a famous racing driver) thinks that everybody reacts differently to alcohol. (He would be quite safe after drinking three whiskies. ) He thinks the limit should be raised.
    Gabrielle Savage (a famous film actress) thinks ihe law should be abolished because it stops people having a good time.