'I'm not proud to admit it, but I'm a monster driver'
John Meagher on why he's trying to be more patient behind the wheel
Published 07/10/2010 | 05:00
One evening, a fortnight or so ago, I was driving past the venerable Bleeding Horse pub in south inner city Dublin, when an SUV veered into my lane without indicating. The driver moved so suddenly that I had to brake frantically to avoid hitting him.
I've given up on the average motorist knowing how to use the indicator or having the slightest understanding of road lanes, but this was a whole new level of offensiveness. When I realised that the driver in question was utterly oblivious to my beeping and head-light flashing because he was so engrossed in his phone conversation, my rage intensified.
I followed him on to Charlemont Street and as the road widened near the canal, I overtook him aggressively, shaking my fist at him as I did so. Only then did he appear to notice me and he responded with a long blast of his horn.
That infuriated me even further and I gave very serious thought to jumping out of my car to confront him when we found ourselves stuck at lights in Ranelagh. Luckily, sense prevailed, especially when I got a good look at him in the rear view mirror and saw that he was built like a rugby prop.
I'm not proud to admit this, but I can be a monster when driving. I think I'm a tolerant, reasonably relaxed person when I'm not behind the wheel of a car, but something happens to me when I get into the driver's seat and put my foot on the accelerator.
It's a rare car journey in which I don't get stressed about something another road user has done.
I have never got out of my car to remonstrate with someone, but I've come very close to doing it. And there have been a few moments where I thought I was going to be confronted, such was my original display of anger.
In light of this, it came as quite a shock to me when I heard that an Englishman, Raymond Bates, had died in a suspected road rage incident in Sandymount, Dublin, the Sunday evening before last.
He was allegedly struck twice on the head with a hurley, and twice more while he was lying on the ground.
According to reports, the row started because the victim had allegedly been driving too slowly for his attacker's liking. He died from head injuries in hospital four days later.
It is thought to be the first road rage death in this country and it shows just how easy it is for a spat on the road to boil over. How many lucky escapes have I had over the years? Perhaps I've been fortunate that I didn't pick the wrong person to antagonise.
I should stress that I'm not an aggressive driver. I like to think of myself as a considerate road user who obeys the rules of the road to the letter of the law, never fails to indicate, doesn't drive up another's rear end and will happily allow motorists trying to join traffic from a side street to go in front of me.
My problem is centred around what I term 'inconsiderate drivers'.
For me, this phrase encompasses a huge number of possibilities -- people who fail to indicate when turning off or changing lanes; those who drive dangerously slow and force others to overtake; anybody with their full headlights blindingly on; somebody incapable of reversing into a parking space and thereby holding up traffic behind; all those who park in yellow boxes; people struggling to drive SUVs when they would be better off in a Nissan Micra... The list goes on.
But why does such behaviour annoy me so much? Perhaps I have anger issues -- to use that all-encompassing bit of US psycho-babble -- and the problem only rears its ugly head when I'm safely ensconced in my car.
I would never consider offering the finger to anyone who had annoyed me on the street for fear I would get my head kicked in, but surrounded by metal and glass and with a personal soundtrack on the car stereo, I feel cut off from a world where the normal rules apply.
My wife has frequently chided me for the stress I experience while driving, although it should be said that she is no shrinking violet when it comes to letting other road users know how she feels when they have done something to displease her.
Still, Lynn is on to something when she says that my behaviour could get me hurt one day. Just thinking of that appalling tragedy in Sandymount makes me realise that she could well be right.
And in the days since, I have made a concerted effort to be less easily annoyed when driving. I've also tried to set off on any journey in plenty of time -- I'm a notoriously bad time-keeper and much of my anxiety stems from trying to get somewhere to deadline. Thus far, I've been keeping my peace. Fingers crossed it will continue.
Yet, several people I know -- all men, admittedly -- say they also suffer from road rage. Maybe it's the friends I'm keeping.
Anyway, one of them learned to his cost just how bad his behaviour had been when the first words to emerge from the lips of his adoring two-year-old son were those succinct words his dad had used every day while driving: "F***ing asshole!"