Wednesday, 3 November 2010

New Bad Driving Habits

Driving from interview to interview (my record is having covered 240Km between two interviews on the same day) I have been encountering new elements of bad driving.  Of course, we still have the general fact of people feeling they have a right to speed (exacerbated by the fact that they think/know that the speed cameras have been turned off) and that there is no need to signal when changing lanes or going around a roundabout, but I have now spotted three new trends that I thought it worthwhile highlighting.  Driving habits are always of interest to me partly because I am incredulous at how so many people get away with appalling driving and never seemed to get caught by the police.

The first new habit is the least severe.  It stems from how the signal of flashing your headlights to other drivers has been mutated by aggressive drivers on British roads.  In the past, flashing your headlights a couple of times meant 'I'll wait, you come on' and was usually used when in a narrow road to indicate to the person that they should come through the slot.  I also use it to allow people to turn right in front of me, across my carriageway, when I see that a long queue is building up behind them.  However, many British drivers now use the headlight signal in the opposite way, i.e. 'Wait, I am coming through'.  This is the way it is officially used in France, but over in the UK it stems from the very aggressive ways in which people seem not to feel they must drive.  An example is when they come up behind you in the middle or the fast lane of the motorway and flash their lights and sometimes sound their horn too.  They are saying 'Get out of the way, I am faster and you and am coming through', no matter whether that means they break the speed limit or not.  I have had this done to me when overtaking a lorry in the slow lane briefly bringing me into the middle lane of a motorway, but clearly too long for someone racing up behind me who could not be bothered to move over to the third lane.  What has become apparent over the last few weeks is that people, usually, though not exclusively men, but certainly ones driving expensive Audi and BMW cars simply keep their headlights on permanently.  I have wondered if this was a technical element of the car like the Volvos which used to permanently have their side lights on.  However, unless someone can draw my attention to it, I have not become aware that suddenly these cars have headlights permanently on as a feature (I know motorcyclists opposed such a step as it meant they stood out even less in the traffic).  In my view, they are doing it especially on motorways to say, 'Look, I have a big, powerful, expensive car, don't even think of pulling into the lane in front of me, keep out of my way'.  Of course, seeing such behaviour encourages me to pull out in front of them and slow down, but I know that is hazardous, but indicates the kind of problem such posturing can provoke.

The next bad habit is again about bullying.  At a roundabout in the UK you are supposed to give right to traffic coming from the right.  Vehicles in side roads are supposed to give way to vehicles on the main road, there are specific markings on the road to show who has the right of way (if you do not understand these markings, please read your Highway Code).  Now, however, it is a question of judgement: 'ah yes, that car is ten years older than mine/has an engine capacity of 500cc less than mine/is driven by someone old enough to be my mother' and on that basis the driver pulls out on to the roundabout or the main road.  As they roar away, or quite often due to the heaviness of the traffic roar and then brake sharply, they are oblivious to the chaos of sudden stops and shunts they have left in their wake.  At roundabouts I think some of this stems from the fact that often you have no idea which exit people are aiming for and so people think they should jump out and take the chance.  Sat navs do not help with their reference to 'third exit' often not making it clear which they are counting (often leaving off minor road exits) and they certainly cannot cope with junctions when you have to go basically straight but jig a little to left or right (usually comes out as 'turn left, turn right'), they need terminology which more accurately reflects the erratic pattern of UK roads (try using a sat nav to get around Swindon's so-called 'Magic Roundabout' system!).  A lot of it, though simply stems from impatience and arrogance.  It is clear if you do any driving on British roads, let alone the distances I cover, that many people think they have a right to be able to behave differently to the law, let alone custom and practice on the roads.

This combination of arrogance and impatience brings me to the third bad habit which I first spotted comparatively recently, but now seem to see all the time.  This is overtaking people when they are trying to turn right.  I will clarify what I mean, (and if you live outside the UK, Japan and Australia, substitute 'right' for 'left' and vice versa in what I am saying to understand what I mean in your context) of course, when people want to turn right on an average road they move into the centre of the road.  These days they often have to sit there for a long time before someone coming the opposite way lets them turn.  In these circumstances, if there is space, then it is permissible to pass the car on the inside, i.e. in the UK, to the left hand side of it, the one nearest the pavement (though when this occurs between lanes on a motorway it is termed 'undertaking' and is illegal).  What happens now, however, is that people overake the car trying to turn, i.e. they go round it on the right-hand side.  This is madness.  If the person (whose attention is usually focused on the oncoming traffic rather the traffic behind) had decided to turn right at that moment then they plough into the driver overtaking them.  It also reduces their chance even further of getting to turn right so freeing up the highway quicker.  The driver overtaking has to go fully over into the oncoming lane so potentially exposing that car to being hit by oncoming traffic typically charging up the road.  It is no wonder so many accidents happen in low speed limit areas in towns.  However, if you have ever known anybody who has suffered the years of pain that comes with a whiplash injury, you know how bad such accidents can be.

Driving is a job.  It is often boring and needs a lot of patience.  It is not a place to get angry or be arrogant.  When you get in your car you are no longer an individual traveller but instantly a cog in a machine.  If you try to break out of the set patterns of that machine it will break quickly and people will be injured, including youself (your beloved vehicle is liable to be damaged with you to blame as well).  The ignorance of the basic rules of the road in the UK make it hard for the bulk of people whether from Britain or visitors, to drive safely without facing reckless, unexpected, unpredictable behaviour.  We need to stop bullying by drivers, we need to stop them simply focusing on how bored they are or how they want to show off and instead remember their duty to the public as a whole.  They would be furious if someone mowed down their partner or child or parent and yet they behave in a way which risks the health and lives of other people's loved ones.  We need to restore basic manners and consideration to driving and have harsher penalties for those who cannot adhere to those things.  Removing speed cameras was a step in the wrong direction and I can only see the next few years witnessing an increase in death and maiming because of arrogant, selfish driving.


Defensive Driving School said...

Perfect article on bad driving habits, seems like you have researched a lot on this.

Very nice.

Rooksmoor said...

Thank you for the comment. No, I have not researched a great deal, this knowledge has simply come from driving around in southern England. I used to cover 480Km per week, that fell to 250Km and now with me unemployed, probably 10Km per week. Maybe I just live in an area of particularly bad drivers! Given that I saw a man close to where I live navigate a roundabout steering with his wrists as he had a lit cigarette in one hand and a mobile phone in the other, perhaps that is the case.