I’ve been doing a lot of driving recently. This past week I drove from Somerset to Essex for a meeting in Chelmsford, and then back again. The previous week I did almost the same journey for a meeting in Maldon. Both times I went up the night before and stayed overnight in Colchester with some friends (thank you again, Phill and Phil, the accommodation and ironing service was much appreciated). In case you’ve never done that journey before, at best it’s a 4 hour drive in each direction. If there’s traffic on the M25 or A12 it can be a lot longer.
Now, I see myself as a very level-headed person. I don’t get stressed, I don’t get angry, I don’t judge people. Until I get into a car, apparently. While on the roads recently I’ve noticed just how much I judge the other road users, mentally criticising their driving abilities and in some cases even their choice of car. It came as a bit of a surprise, actually, that I would so easily fall into this habit of judgement. So I thought I’d share with you what form this judgement takes.
Middle lane hoggers are widely accepted as being excruciatingly annoying, not just to me but pretty much everyone (which begs the question: if everyone hates them, who are all these people in the middle lane?). I make a point of observing the rules of the road, pulling into the inside lane (no, not the slow lane, that’s not what it’s called and isn’t what it’s for) and only changing lane to overtake. If there’s a car in front sitting in the middle lane and not overtaking anything, it winds me up. I’ll deliberately come along in the inside lane, and then when the coast is clear pull across all three lanes, right behind them, overtake, and then go back into the inside lane. Obviously I do this with all the required signalling and mirroring, leaving safe distances and not swerving. Obviously. But the intention of this is to make it absolutely clear to the other person that I do not approve of them being in the middle lane, and remind them that they should be in the inside lane. Frustratingly, very seldom do they take the hint. Clearly they’re just not concentrating on the road, and should probably have their drivers license torn up and their car crushed. Let’s see you flaunt the traffic rules now…
Speed is another of my pet hates. I make a point of driving at 70mph at all times, unless I have to slow down to let others past before I overtake something. 69 is too slow. 71 is too fast. It has to be bang on 70 for me to be satisfied. So if I overtake someone, they’re doing less than 70, and I then have to wonder why. Okay, if they’re a lorry, coach or a car pulling a trailer then that’s allowed, because they’re limited to 60. But for anyone else, if they have a fairly modern car, there is absolutely no reason to be doing less than 70mph. The car is capable of it, it’s safe for them to do so. If they’re not prepared to be driving that fast, that brings into question their ability to control the car at those speeds, in which case they shouldn’t be there in the first place. Driving at 70 doesn’t take any more skill than driving at 60, so if someone decides that 70 is too fast then I would say that they should be equally cautious about driving at 60, and if they’re not safe driving at 70 then I’m not sure I want to be sharing the road with them, frankly.
That can also be turned on its head, of course. Anyone overtaking me is clearly doing more than 70mph. That is in clear defiance of the speed limit, and is therefore against the law. And don’t give me any of those poor excuses about the 10% allowance for the speedo – that may have been a problem in the past but modern cars are all very reliable now. If you’re overtaking me, you’re flaunting the traffic rules and are therefore irresponsible. Or, alternatively, you’re not paying attention to your speed, and are therefore careless and unsafe. In any case, if you’re overtaking me then you too deserve to be banned from the roads.
Then I get onto the choice of car. I have a cheap and cheerful Ford Escort. It’s not big, it’s not clever, it’s not killing the world. It’s safe and well built, and I’ve found it to be very reliable. My only gripe is that its engine is too big. It has a 1.8 litre Zetec engine, which develops around 120bhp. That’s more than I need, really, as fun as it is. Cruising along the motorway, you shouldn’t really need to use any more than 30bhp anyway. So when someone speeds past me in a sports car, or an executive saloon, I scoff. You with your 3 litre turbocharged engine. You, sat in your Porshe or your Merc, burning fuel like it’s going out of fashion, with millions of horsepowers sitting there doing nothing. Not only is that an insult to the car, which is capable of far more than you are letting it do, but it’s also a complete waste of money and petrol. If you’re desperate for a leather interior, fine, get a top of the range Mondeo with a diesel engine. The only reason you could legitimately have to own a car with more than, say, 150bhp, is if you’re either pulling a heavy load or you’re doing motorsport on a race track somewhere. Public roads therefore do not need lambos and bentleys. If you’re driving one on the same road as me, you’re in the wrong place.
And then there are the people who don’t indicate before making a manoeuvre. The people who pull into your lane right in front of you giving you no safe distance between. The people who drive insanely close to your back end. The people who forget to put their lights on when it gets dark. The people who swerve from one side of the lane to the other without any apparent control of the car. The people who lob their finished cigarette ends out of the window to be caught up in the air intake of the car behind.
And with all that judgement acknowledged, I hang my head in shame. Not because I’m guilty of the same flaws, because I’m not. I’m guilty of judging everyone else on the road. By doing so, I’ve unwittingly placed myself at the top of the pack, better than everyone else, without blame. And not only is that unfair to all the drivers I’ve not noticed, but it’s not a very healthy opinion to have of myself either. I am not a perfect driver, much as I would love to be, and even if I was it’s not my place to criticise other road users, even if it is only in the silent confines of my own thoughts.
So, if I’ve ever shared the road with you, I apologise for my judgmentalism. And let us all drive on in peace and unity together…