Sunday 4 December 2016

The devils of driving . . .

Published 05/06/2010 | 05:00

Every week I sit behind the wheel of a new car and do my best, limited as it is, to arrive at a fair verdict. And each week there is talk of safety devices, new hi-tech anti-collision technology, lights that show you around corners and so on. These are the bits and pieces of technical ingenuity and innovation that attempt to make cars safer.

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But this week I'd like to put those who sit behind the wheels of cars in the spotlight. The ones who can do most to make cars safer.

Yes, drivers.

Unfortunately, they pose a different problem altogether.

So let me try to review them in what I hope is not too predictable a fashion.

First off I might as well lay bare some of my own faults. They are as common as most but have been curbed, I hope, by undertaking that advanced driving course courtesy of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) in the good old days of a few years back.

But I still have to fight old habits. And fight them really hard.

For instance, I could be a devil at losing patience with poor drivers who are tottling along at two kilometres a fortnight.

They are entitled to do so but the Driver Devil whispers in my ear: "You are entitled to use the road too, you know."

And so I'd narrow the space between us (not too much mind you) and convey every impression possible that the poor so-and-so should get a move on. I admit it is not courteous and puts enormous pressure on the person in front. As I say I used to be much worse and I've worked hard on it.

And then I . . . ah! No, if I confess any more I'll have lost all credibility as a critic. So suffice it to say what follows is not preaching from a pulpit of perfection, merely observations in the course of hundreds of incidents over tens and hundreds of thousands of kilometres.

Here, in no particular order, are 10 prime examples of poor, often outrageous, behaviour.

1. Roundabout Runners

Some drivers think roundabouts are their sole domain and they can jut on to and off one as they please -- and to hell with those already on it. I see them everyday and they put the heart crossways in me. They are lethal because they don't know you have to give way to those on the roundabout and need to signal your intention to leave. And what's more, they never seem to learn from the chaos they cause.

2. Fast-lane Freddies

They sit out there in the fast lane as if not one other person wanted to use it to achieve what that section of the road was constructed to achieve -- let you overtake slower drivers who keep to the inside lane.

Oh! No. They'd light a fire and make tea out there if they could. Nobody ever told them the overtaking lane was for . . . overtaking.

And aren't they paying their taxes? And aren't they bloody well entitled to use whatever part of the road they like? (That in sanitised format is a sample retort to a lay-by conversation I engaged in after following one out of sheer exasperation).

For those bothered to read: the overtaking lane is for overtaking, nothing else.

Staying out there tempts those behind to pass on the inside, a hugely dangerous and illegal act.

3. Tailgating Toms

I 'used' to be among these but I think the IAM cure is working. The worst offenders, believe it or not, are men and usually those driving larger, prestige cars or sports utility vehicles (SUVs).

You get them mostly on single-lane roads. They shunt right up to your number plate, often leaving their lights on full beam or flashing them. Then they drift back a little, only to come roaring at you again.

I don't mind that much. Indeed I have often put on the rear fog lights to frighten them because it looked like I was braking suddenly.

The frightening thing is that if I had to brake suddenly then undoubtedly a few of them would have smashed into me.

For those bothered to know: you need to leave as much space as possible. I use the two-second rule. I pick an object the car in front is passing and slowly/rhythmically go 'and a one and a two'.

If I have passed that object before I finish the phrase I'm too near. Far too near. And you need to make it four seconds in wet weather because of longer stopping distances.

4. No-signal Noras

Sorry ladies, after blaming the chaps for the tailgating I'm afraid quite a few females don't bother to indicate or, increasingly, leave the indicator on for kilometre after kilometre.

It can be disconcerting and creates a mistrust that the person behind the wheel is not really concentrating. Deciding to turn right without indicating is risking an accident.

And leaving their blinking (no pun intended) indicator on is a real and dangerous sign of preoccupation with something else.

I'm reminded of a colleague's tale (male) back when he was asked to give a hand signal during his driving test.

Poor blighter was so nervous and preoccupied he attempted to do so without first rolling down the window.

5. Fog-light Frankies

They usually have a souped-up white or bright red, big-rear-spoiler motor under them and are intent, in petrol-head stupor, on proclaiming themselves any way they can.

Fog lights are only for when visibility is poor such as in fog (!) heavy rain etc. A garda once told me he could prosecute me for driving on a perfectly grand night/early morning on the Stillorgan dual carriageway with fog lights.

6. Mobile-phone Marys

Well, it's a bit unfair to blame Mary. There are plenty of Martys and Michaels as well.

It is a phenomenon. As far as I can see not a soul in the country is passing the slightest bit of heed on the ban on using a mobile in their hand while behind the wheel.

The real biscuit takers are the ones who do it at speed, on a roundabout while giving out to the unrestrained child in the back seat. Now that takes some doing. I've seen it -- and lived to tell the tale.

7. Traffic-light Terrys

The lights have been red for a long time; it is obvious they are about to turn green.

But the bould Terry is too busy foostering in the glovebox or tapping the steering wheel to bother anticipating.

Suddenly five of the 15 cars in the queue squirt forward and Terry, at No 6, realises he/she is not even in gear. Mad panic, tries to take off too quickly, engine conks out, precious time lost.

Terry eventually rattles through on the amber while the rest of us wait an eternity for the next change. Only we are unaware that Terry's cousin is now No 6 in the queue and is already tapping on the steering wheel.

8. Speedy-boy Steves

They swish all over the place, drive far too hard and take risks. They can leave a trail of destruction. No wonder the statistics show so many young men are involved in so many serious, often fatal, accidents.

9. Parking Pests

They'll abandon the car anywhere, blocking your exit or entry, especially when they dash in for a couple of groceries, meet someone they haven't seen in ages and leave you there fuming. Height of bad manners.

10. Unchained Melodys

They let their children roam about in the moving car, often chatting to them as the little ones stand between the two front seats.

I have seen horrific instances of this. Wouldn't you think with all the programmes and educational drives about 'belting up' that no one would allow this to happen?

I have plenty more but that will do for now. Think I'll go for a drive. On second thoughts, maybe I'll just stay put. It's safer.

(Anything you'd like to add to the list? ecunningham@independent.ie)

Irish Independent

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