Psychology, Society, Transport

The Road to Hell…

Road

Image by Jim Semonik from Pixabay

…is paved with good intentions – as we all know.

The recent changes to this country’s Highway Code were intended to improve road safety for the most vulnerable road users but it seems that they will only cause confusion at best, resentment in between and accidents at worst.

As a driver I disagree with the new requirement to give way to pedestrians crossing a junction you’re turning into. In principle the car driver should be slowing for the junction anyway so stopping shouldn’t be an issue, the problem is that there will be, at some point, a car following where the driver will either not want to stop, is following too closely, or not paying attention and will, not expecting a car to stop on the main road, run into the back of the stopped car. If this rule applies to roundabouts as well where people often don’t actually stop before joining then I can see many t-boned vehicles blocking roundabout entrances before long.

I’ve said before that I am both a cyclist and car driver and I admit that not all cyclists follow the highway code. I get just as annoyed as anyone else at cyclists riding on the road in the dark, in dark clothing without lights and expecting drivers to see them, I get annoyed with cyclists who don’t indicate, who just dart across the road etc – mainly because they are the ones held up as an excuse for car drivers to act aggressively towards all cyclists, not give us room, sound their horns at us etc. As it is the new rules will make no difference, those who break them will always have the attitude of “I’ll do what I want, nobody’s telling me what to do or how fast I can go…”

Since the new rules have come in I’ve had a white Fiat 500 sat behind me at a junction revving and edging forward to get me to pull out in front of moving traffic then another, or the same, Fiat pull out of a junction in front of me, causing me to brake sharply and two vans passing within inches of me, the last one almost pushing me onto the pavement – all the drivers no doubt thought it was funny and in most cases pedestrians nearby looked at me like it was my fault, that I shouldn’t have been there, which typifies the attitude these days.

As has been said recently the newspapers haven’t helped much by implying that drivers will be fined for opening their door with the wrong hand – it’s a recommendation in the highway code to use the hand furthest from the door, so you look in the wing mirror – and screaming and crying that cyclists will all be riding down the middle of the road and stopping everyone getting to work.  Sensationalist headlines sell papers and get websites ad revenue don’t they, even if they stir up aggravation.

Demands for licence plates, insurance, road tax etc, on the grounds of road damage, accidents etc is just sour grapes. The true source of the resentment that some drivers hold towards cyclists is, I believe, that firstly they are being delayed by the slower bike, their journey taking all of a few seconds longer; secondly their egos can’t stand not being in control – they want to drive at the speed they want to and they’re being prevented from doing so – when a car slows them down they can’t say “F***in’ car drivers, should be banned from the roads, oh, wait, er…” Thirdly there is a simmering jealousy that they don’t look so good in lycra, no sorry, I mean they can’t get round, and in-between, stationary traffic. Finally is an arrogant sense of entitlement, that it’s their road, that roads were invented for motor cars, to the degree that many drivers feel that roads shouldn’t be used by cyclists or pedestrians at all – well as for the ownership I think some Romans laid claim to that with their carts and chariots a long while since.

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Cars, Society

Free Parking? Of Course, Don’t Even Ask…

English: Car Park £ 200 Presumably a decimal s...

English: Car Park £ 200 Presumably a decimal separator has gone amiss and the fee for using this car park beside the Coast Road is £ 2.00. At this time of the year plenty of free parking is available and the car park is closed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Outside our shop we have a forecourt which is intended for the use of our vans, delivery lorries and of course our customers – for the ease of getting glass into their vehicles without too far to walk.  The road beyond that has parking restrictions enforced with a zero-tolerance approach, and beyond that road is the Royal Mail sorting office which has no customer parking of its own which all leads to people collecting parcels to use our forecourt.

I wouldn’t mind if they’d just ask but despite the big signs saying that it’s for customer parking only these people either assume it’s for customers of Royal Mail too or they just don’t care – I’d say it’s the latter.  Maybe one in fifty will actually ask if it’s ok to park there for five minutes and to be honest as long as they’ve not parked in the way I’ll let them.  The rest though just ignorantly, arrogantly abandon their cars on our land, often actually blocking the entrance completely.  I have even witnessed two visitors to the Royal Mail park side-by-side in the sorting office entrance driveway, blocking it completely so that the delivery vans couldn’t get in or out.

As for our own forecourt invaders, they do it even when some of us are outside at lunch time, often looking at us with an expression of “what?  I can do what I like” on their faces.  We’ve even faced torrents of abuse from people who have blocked the entrance or access to our side gate and been asked to move, politely.  “Oh, for f***’s sake, I’m only collecting a parcel, where the f*** am I supposed to park” they shout.  Anywhere but where you have, without asking permission, would be the appropriate reply but by that time they’ve driven off loudly.

They could park in the nearby supermarket car park, or in the bays down the road but no, they might have to spend two minutes walking and that’d be tragic.  Just today one old BMW driver took the biscuit – he parked up, again avoiding eye contact as if he hasn’t seen me he hasn’t had to ask permission.   He then went and picked up his parcel, returned to his car and then sat, as many do, opening the parcel and inspecting the contents.  What he did next though was unbelievable – he opened the bonnet (hood) of his car and proceeded to fit the items from his parcel into the engine bay of his car – so now we provide not just free parking but free garage space too.  Finally tonight we were parking up the vans and a driver pulled up in our car park right where we were about to put a pickup truck “where can you park?” was again the plea.  Ten minutes later she could have used our land as we’d have gone home but at that moment I directed her along the road.  Edit:  even better than those, a few days after publishing this a couple parked in our car park, didn’t ask permission, visited the post office, came back and dumped the parcel in the car and then walked off down the road and into the town centre, coming back over an hour later.  It’s getting worse.

It’s the same at home.  Our building has eleven allocated spaces for eleven apartments and most evenings and at weekends a number of the spaces will be occupied by cars belonging to people who own houses on the adjacent street.  They buy a house with no off-street parking, on a street with clearly signed parking restrictions and then think “oh, where can I park my car?  I know, in that free parking next door.”  The free parking that everybody in this building pays a premium on the rent for.  These same neighbours are also the ones who think that our building’s communal rubbish skips are available for the overflow from their bins and garden waste too, oh and as with the work car park we provide free workshop space too as one neighbour used our car park, in fact the very space where my Citroen now resides, to replace the cooling pipes of his mid-engined MG-F.  All without asking one person if it was ok to get coolant and other fluids all over our tarmac.

The sheer volume of people who exhibit this lack of basic manners, this sense of entitlement to park where they like is troubling.  I was brought up with the maxim that manners cost nothing, yet today it appears that people seem to think that being polite costs them their very soul.

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Cars, Psychology, Science, Society

Watch The Road

Person using cell phone while driving.

Person using cell phone while driving. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you’re sat in a comfy seat, warm and dry, listening to a great album, singing along, thinking about dinner, or perhaps chatting to your friend, spouse or chinese takeaway it’s easy to forget you’re in over a tonne of metal travelling at speed.

When you’re learning you’re always paying attention to the road, checking your mirrors and being aware of the dangers around you.  Someone might walk into the road, some idiot might pull out in front of you (no particular brand owners mentioned, but you know who they are).  When you’ve passed your test though you might not be quite so vigilant.

Modern cars have only made the problem worse.  Even though California recently allowed texting and emailing via voice only whilst driving research has again shown that distracted driving is still dangerous.  Talking to someone places far higher mental demands on drivers, reducing their concentration on the really important task – staying between the white lines and not hitting anything.  A few years ago David Strayer and colleagues from the University of Utah compared mobile phone users to drunks in a driving simulator.  The talkie drivers showed significant impairment and slower braking reaction, roughly similar to participants who registered a .08 percent blood-alcohol content.

In tests of texters handheld typers naturally took their eyes off the road for longer periods than normal but even those using a handsfree to dictate to the phone took their eyes off the road for long periods too.  When you’re trying to concentrate on what you want to say you’re brain will focus on that rather than the outside world so your eyes will wander.  A counter-argument that drivers talk to passengers all the time is counter-countered by the facts that the conversation is often about the traffic, other drivers and so on and also that many accidents are caused when the driver is having an absorbing discussion or blazing row with the passenger alongside them and/or the kids in the back.  It is why so many accidents involve a car full of friends, loud music, and often but not exclusively young, inexperienced drivers.

Car makers haven’t helped though.  I like a car where I can alter the temperature, open a window, change the track or the volume on the MP3 player or switch on the hazard lights by reaching out to a familiar location and flicking a switch.  While it still takes some attention away from the road at least you’re still watching the road, using muscle-memory to find the control, knowing by tactile feedback if it’s set right, and then a very quick glance can confirm this.  Many cars though have just about everything set by some kind of menu, operated by a joystick so you have to watch a screen in order to set the aircon and so on.  On a recent Ferrari tested on Top Gear you even had the choice of seeing either the speedometer or satnav display – that shouldn’t have been even considered.

Voice control has been around for a while but generally only for basics like phone dialing and satnav but some manufacturers are now starting to consider advanced controls, for example the eye-tracking and Kinect-like gesture controls as seen in Hyundai’s recent HCD14 Genesis concept.

Driverless cars promise much but still have a long way to go and the technology that has made its way into cars so far such as automatic braking could easily encourage drivers to pay less attention to the road, lulled into a false sense of security that the car will save them from an accident.

I know personally that you can easily even be distracted while driving by feeling anxious or upset about something – the realisation that you’ve driven a mile down a road but can’t remember doing it is a sign of this distraction and is disturbing – but we need to remember the importance of making sure that tonne of metal doesn’t hit anything and the less things that get in the way of that the better.

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