I don’t mean all motorists, all the time and especially not when they are no longer in their car. After all I’m a motorist some of the time and I don’t think I’m antisocial.
I’ve done quite a lot of driving this summer, in different parts of the country, and I have seen plenty of antisocial behaviour. The worst was here in Leeds when some genius undertook me, using the parking and cycle lane, as I drove up Belle Isle Road. He seemed to think that my sticking to the speed limit was unreasonable behaviour.
The problem I think is that motorists are cocooned inside a metal box. They have limited interaction with others outside their box. They can’t hear them over the radio, they can’t speak to them. The main means of communication is the car itself, pulling out in front of you or driving right up behind you – tailgating, or using the horn of course. Cyclists and pedestrians (so long as they’re not wearing headphones) are more engaged with the world around them through no fault of their own.
My latest bugbear is drivers in supermarket car parks. Once they are out of their car and have become a pedestrian I’m sure they are as peeved as me at drivers going way too fast to be safe. But back behind the wheel, they speed off again. It’s just thoughtless and selfish.
Aside from road traffic accidents this sort of behaviour has all sorts of dangers. I heard an interesting programme on the radio about tornadoes in Oklahoma. One storm in particular was particularly ferocious, but being America the authorities were aware of it as it developed, they tracked it and put out warnings.
Unfortunately the residents of a city in its path all decided to leave town at the same time. The interstate (motorway) quickly became a giant car park as a massive traffic jam developed just from the pressure of traffic. This put the drivers in a more dangerous position than if they had stayed at home and hidden in the basement. Luckily the storm shifted direction and the motorists were safe.
The guy from the state government said “Given the chance people will always do the wrong thing”. What I think he meant was: people acting as individuals will do the wrong thing. If all the motorists had got together and discussed the situation they could have agreed to stagger their journeys, or stay in their cellars.
The Highway Code and traffic laws are sets of rules setting out how to behave on the roads. They are designed on behalf of the whole population and agreed by our elected representatives. In that sense they are a collective response to the situation. They aim to reduce the chaos of millions of individual motorists doing what they each think is right. And yet many see them as an infringement of their personal liberty.
I was struck by a recent tweet from the Yorkshire Evening Post: “More than 6k motorists have been stung by a single bus lane camera in Leeds making the council £250k.”
Let’s unpick that shall we? The role of the bus lane is to keep public transport moving despite road congestion. Each bus replaces about fifty cars at rush hour when most bus lanes operate. And 6,000 motorists have been driving in a bus lane when they shouldn’t have been. And they’ve been caught on camera and fined.
Can you imagine a similar headline or tweet about, say, shoplifters or burglars “stung” by a CCTV camera?
I suppose I’m asking motorists to do two things. Firstly to obey the law. It’s not there to make you late, it’s there for a good reason, to keep us all safe and keep us all moving.
The second thing is to stop and think about other road users – pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, even lorry drivers. You are a pedestrian some of the time, so you know what that’s like. If you haven’t ridden a bike recently have a go to remind yourself.
I’ll be back in next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.