Real danger on our roads will soon be a sense of rage among 'soft touch' drivers
Published 22/07/2016 | 02:30
The night I was pulled over for speeding, I was a lucky man. It was one of those nights where, for no reason whatsoever, you're in a giddy, carefree sort of humour, cruising down the N11 as I was, and looking forward to getting home and cracking open a nice bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. So when I saw a car on the inside lane I put my foot down just for the hell of it. And as soon as I did, so did he. So I put the foot down a little more. As did he.
At the time, I was going through a love for all things Italian and driving an Alfa Romeo 159 the previous owner had, I discovered later, remapped. It was needlessly fast. So bidding arrivederci, I flew past this guy and within seconds saw the flashing blue lights in the rear view mirror.
We all know the feeling. The immediate sense of dread is quickly replaced by that numbing calm when you realise you're up the creek one way or the other. The garda got out, plainclothes, and took a stroll around the car. Then he tapped on the window and asked for the licence.
"Do you know what speed you were doing?"
I looked at the speedometer and it seemed to be grinning at me.
"160, you were doing. 160."
I don't think I was, but however.
"I'm on an urgent call, what's your reason?"
I thought about mentioning the bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
"Well, I went to go past you, but you put your foot-"
"You thought I was racing you?"
There were no buts. He looked up and down the road then shook his head and told me that I was a lucky man. Had he been Traffic Corps, I'd be facing a conviction, not just a few penalty points.
You don't get lucky more than once with that kind of nonsense. I'm not a careless driver. I always keep my paperwork up to date and I'm nice to everyone on the road except taxi drivers.
But I like my car. It's my personal space where I can listen to music, place the coffee in the wee holder and shut out even the thoughts of public transport.
But to be a driver nowadays is to be punished for opting for that luxury. Clampers, tolls, road taxes, fuel taxes, NCTs, speed camera vans on the safest roads in the country and the latest burden, the soaring cost of insurance.
Did you know that 'Driving a vehicle on a motorway against the flow of traffic' - which would have to be considered barking mad - will get you just two penalty points? Whereas 'Driving dangerously' gets you up to five and a day in court.
The real danger on our roads will soon be the sense of injustice, which will build into blind rage and a crescendo of carelessness. Drivers feel they are the easy targets. The fish in the barrel for speed camera vans and clampers. The soft touches for tolls and taxes. More streets in our cities and towns are being closed off for bus lanes, and free parking spaces have been cut to a minimum.
The latter has spelt the death of towns and cities up and down the country, their centres closed off from those who would otherwise drive in to spend their cash. Instead, feeling somewhat disenfranchised, they boot down the M50s and the N11s, getting dizzier and angrier through tolls and roundabouts to the big impersonal shopping complexes. There, the parking is free and the fast food outlets boost the sugar levels for a speedy return home and the risk of more penalty points. That's essentially how the bigger picture is being painted.
In general, Irish drivers are safe road users. We don't have that streak of craziness you see in Italy. Or the controlled madness of the German drivers. Central Europe, Poland in particular, is for the certifiable. But together with France, these countries recorded the highest fatalities on their roads in 2014. Italy 3,381, Germany 3,377, Poland 3,202 and France 3,384. This compares with Ireland at 193.
If, like me, you've been lucky once and got away with it, you've learnt your lesson. Speed is a killer. And any measures to make our roads safer have to be applauded. However, plans to introduce a speed limit of 30kmh in the capital is pushing road safety to extremes and is really just more economic opportunism.
We've had the Luas drivers striking over pay, soon to be followed by train and bus drivers. The recent 'Monster rally' to highlight the cost of insurance marks the turn of the ordinary drivers to highlight their plight. If this speed limit is brought in, there will rightly be a backlash.
As I checked my email this morning, I noticed the reminder for my motor tax. As they say, car sickness is the feeling you get when the monthly payments are due. I drive an Audi now. Gone German, learning to control the madness.