Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Driving us mad - the disappearance of motorway etiquette

You’re in the middle lane, and you find yourself stuck behind someone doing 65. Do you (a) drive up to within three feet of their rear bumper, flash your lights and honk your horn until they move to the slow lane (b) overtake on the inside, flashing V-signs as you do so or (c) instantly pull out into the fast lane without bothering to check whether another car is rapidly approaching?

From recent experience, I’d say the last was currently the most popular option. After all, it allows you to demonstrate stupidity, selfishness and discourtesy in one simple move, and it has the added benefit of being extremely dangerous, relying, as it does, on the fast-lane driver’s ability to  decrease their speed by 20 or 30 mph within a few yards. (The absolutely best time to do this, of course, is when it’s raining.) 

Another popular manoeuvre is to saunter into the fast lane doing about 70 – and just stay there, pootling along at the same speed, resolutely failing to check your rear-view mirror, blithely unaware of the one mile tailback of fuming drivers behind you. 

Why do lorry drivers – who, even after discounting their penchant, highlighted by Jeremy Clarkson, for murdering prostitutes, appear to be a pack of thoroughgoing bastards – insist on trying to overtake other lorries going up a hill, when neither of them is capable of doing more than 30 on an incline? Is there any sight more annoying than that of two lumbering behemoths tying up two motorway lanes, thereby invariably forcing old folk in 25-year old Rovers to move into the fast lane, with the result that everyone ends up moving at the same speed as a retreating glacier?

You’re doing 90 or 95 in the fast lane (this is hypothetical, of course) and someone in a  car with an engine slightly less powerful than the average moped comes charging up behind you, engine straining, rev counter deep in the red. Surprised, you move into the middle lane to let them pass (preferably before their little tin can disintegrates). They take two minutes to get past you. Just before metal fatigue sets in, they abruptly shift into the middle lane, missing you by at least six inches – and instantly slow down to 70. 

Why would you do that? I mean, do they have issues to do with the size of their membrum virile? What are they trying to prove? Having owned slow cars in my time, I know how sexually inadequate they tend to make one feel, but surely the secret is to pretend that you enjoy driving within the speed limit and slowing up on hills rather than displaying your lack of staying power?

All cars are fitted with signalling devices. We all use them all the time. You do so without thinking. It’s easier to signal than not to signal – it is so ingrained in us that not signalling requires a positive cognitive effort, a decision to do the wrong thing, whereas signalling doesn’t. Many years ago, when I used to drive to work at Television Centre, I noticed that Shepherd’s Bush was a sort of Bermuda Triangle when it came to drivers signalling their intentions – the rapid take-off from the curb into a line of traffic without affording the driver just pulling alongside you the slightest hint that you were about to do so was, I remember, a particularly popular manoeuvre. (I remarked on this one day while giving a lift to a News colleague, just after a dreadlocked assassin caused me to swerve violently, causing my companion to bridle: “White people do it too!” – which surprised me, because I hadn’t raised the issue of race). Anyhow, the habit has now transcended the colour barrier, but seems to be confined exclusively to males – especially when approaching mini-roundabouts or changing motorway lanes. Is signalling now seen as a sign of effeminacy amongst younger drivers?

Similarly, is acknowledging courteous driving or apologising for doing something stupid now regarded as unmanly? I wonder what proportion of road rage incidents arise from the willful refusal to raise a hand to say “thank you” or “sorry” – I’m guessing it’s over 90%. If you slow down to let some berk who’s got himself into trouble move into your lane, would it kill the blighter to signal their appreciation of your good manners? When you eventually pass the eejit who’s been holding you up by snailing along in the fast lane for the last five minutes, why can’t they just give an apologetic wave, rather than staring grimly ahead, jaws clenched?

My driving is, of course, perfect. 

1 comment:

  1. It's the ones who slew across three lanes at 120 miles per hour at the last possible moment to get to their turn off I can't stand...years ago my instructor told me they were the drivers who knew what they were doing but I've always found it rather yobbish.
    Sunday, April 24, 2011 - 11:04 PM