Thursday, 16 August 2007

Our Selfish Society 1: Road Littering

There are probably so many selfish people in the world today that I could produce a blog just on that. I envisage a string of postings on such topics: selfishness has been increasing over the last few decades and certainly in the English-speaking world took a real boost in the 1980s, the 'greed is good' era. I drive 60-90 miles (96-144km) per day and on the road is where you see a great deal of selfish behaviour and a lot of bad, arrogant and ignorant behaviour too. There is something about getting in a car which seems to free people from the normal constraints of society and also make them feel they are back in historic times in which they have to fight for their name and challenge others to duels. I intend to do a posting just on the bad aspects of driving in the UK. However, today I am going to focus on just one element of selfish behaviour combined with driving: road littering.

What prompted this was news today that according to the UK Highways Agency the amount of litter along the UK's roads has reached an all time high. It is the agency's job to clean it up and it is taking staff and funds away from road repairs. This is not the end of the problem. They have to employ more people to clear the litter from the road and from roadsides and this is a really hazardous occupation. Last year in one county, Hampshire in southern England, 2 of their staff were killed and 19 were injured, collecting litter along the roadsides. They put signs up well in advance of the litter clearing both in terms of days and in terms of distance on the road so everyone has fair warning. The litter collectors wear high visibility clothing, they keep to the verges not the road, and yet, people are still running them down.

They reckon you have a life expectancy of 10 minutes if you break down on a UK motorway. In the UK, unlike France, it is not compulsory to have high-visibility vests or warning triangles in your car, but many people do. Neither of these, however, seem to reduce your risk of being killed on a UK motorway. It does not matter if you are in the middle lane or on the hard shoulder you are still at risk from drivers in cars and lorries (trucks) drifting over the lanes. It is apparent people pay little attention to what is in front of them and do not slow down when they see a broken-down car or a litter collector; they literally get away with murder.

Litter throwing, and when I say throwing, that is exactly what I mean, not dropping, is in itself causing accidents. UK drivers, according to government reports, are no longer happy simply to drop cigarette butts out of the car window, they are actually throwing drinks cans and fast food packaging out of their windows and across lanes, causing cars to swerve.

Do these reckless drivers and passengers live in some bubble? Do they think they are only playing a game on their Playstation or their Xbox? Have they no thought of what their actions are causing? Have they no idea what it is like to have your car hit by a drinks can at 70 mph (112kph)? These are probably the same people, who despite the higher fines and stricter penalties introduced this year, are still driving one-handed with a mobile phone pressed to their ear. The number of people doing that, in my experience, has not dropped at all. These people are utterly selfish, they have no concerns for anything beyond their petty, exploitative lives. To them disposing of litter or taking a phone call is far more important than a person's life. How sick can you get?!

A car is a more dangerous weapon than a knife and in some cases than a gun. The penalties for using this weapon recklessly should be as high as if a knife or a gun was used. People should not just get 18 months imprisonment and a driving ban for a year, they should get 25 years. If they ran around the town, blindfolded, with a gun, firing off randomly and killed someone, that is what they would get, but somehow using a car so recklessly is seen as alright. It still ends someone's life, it does not matter what the actual weapon is. The only way we are going to change this lethal behaviour which wrecks so many lives is to impose proper penalties on dangerous drivers.

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