Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Dangerous New 'Games' On The Road

Back in a job, I am driving daily once more, not the hundreds of kilometres I used to do in a week, just 140 Km these days.  However, this does take me around the M25 and into West London, so does expose me to quite a lot of traffic.  In the past:  and   I have noted trends in bad driving that seem to suddenly appear.  Some such as driving with headlights on full beam or using fog lights at all times of day and night except when there is actually any fog, seem to be continuing with us for now.  Tailgating is as popular as ever as is undertaking and slaloming between the lanes of vehicles.  However, ahead of this Christmas season two new bad driving trends have appeared that you might like to keep an eye open for.

One of them was actually suggested in the media a couple of years back when petrol prices rose sharply.  This is the impression that if you drive with your wheels on the white lines you can reduce your fuel consumption because of the reduced friction between your tyre and the road.  Back then I saw a few people try it, and now it is back in fashion, certainly through the areas I drive.  The only problem is the white lines people seem to be favouring are those running down the middle of the road.  I have had to move over hard towards the pavement as cars charge towards me not really straddling the line but certainly with their right-hand set of wheels (given that we drive on the left-hand side of the road in the UK) riding on the white line.  On many roads in London and the Home Counties, with the size of many ‘family’ cars these days, squeezing down the narrow streets, passed rows of parked cars is a challenge, but this is increased if certain drivers intend to dominate the central line.  Of course the ‘law’ of British roads is that larger, more powerful and newer cars always have right of way, anyone in a smaller or older car must give way, no matter what the actual laws, or face a stream of abuse or even being followed until you reach a convenient location where the other driver can get out and either assault your car or you.  I imagine that the amount of fuel saved by driving this way is compensated for by how much such drivers rev up and accelerate away from junctions anyway.

The other habit which certainly seems to be a ‘game’ of some kind or about asserting the size of a driver’s ego over that of people around him/her (and such habits are not confined to men) happens at traffic lights.  What happens is when the lights turn to green, the driver at the front starts off but only moves so far that half of their car is over the stop line.  They then wait until the lights go to amber (in the UK a single amber light precedes the lights turning red) and then accelerate away, meaning that all the cars behind them are compelled to wait at the red for the cycle to go through once more.  I do not really see the purpose of this, I guess the driver pulling away can drive around any lane they choose, as this often occurs, in my experience at traffic lights on roundabouts.  Given how people like to cut across or block people moving to the correct lane, I can imagine this is something desirable.  However, blocking a whole batch of vehicles from proceeding, further congests what in and around London, is already very dense traffic.  The first few times I saw this happen I had assumed that the driver had stalled, though the cars that this happens with are new models and generally powerful or that the driver was on their mobile phone (drivers holding mobile phones in their hands while driving is still incredibly common in the areas I drive through) and was not ready to drive on.  However, it has now happened to me so often in the same way that I can only assume it is deliberate.

One habit which I had forgotten, but seems to be back in a new form, is having a car come hard up behind you, overtake you just to sit one vehicle space in front of you, continuing at the same speed as you.  I know I have an old car, but I do find it incredible that viewing it is so offensive to drivers they have to go around me.  To this, on motorways has been added a new twist.  A slip road appears on the left for you to leave the motorway.  The driver behind me wants to go down that road.  However, rather than indicating to go into that lane, first he overtakes me going into the middle or the fast lane, depending on the layout of the junction, then he cuts diagonally across three lanes just in front of me to go off down the slip road.  This causes me naturally to brake and the cars further back to do so as well.  I do not understand the motives for this behaviour and can only guess that the driver is upset that I have paid insufficient attention to his greatness and it alerting me to what I will be missing now that he is leaving the motorway.

All of these behaviours stem from the fact that UK drivers clearly see driving as an activity in which their dignity is constantly being defended.  They have to assert their right to be first and noticed at every chance.  It is like preening to scare off rival creatures.  It stems from a clear sense of insecurity, that even to have a single car, especially a slower or older one is offensive.  A sense of lanes is ignored and the driver feels he or she can simply ride across them in any sequence that makes his or her journey apparently easiest or more exciting.  The indignation at anyone who does anything which whether intentional or not, disrupts such desires is instant, withering, bullying and sometimes violent.  In such circumstances, with most speed cameras switched off and traffic police numbers continuing to fall in the current austerity measures, it is no wonder that accidents are climbing in number and that daily driving is becoming still more of an unsettling activity.

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