Is it worth risking your life to get one car ahead?

I just drove home on the freeway. Some cars were driving far too fast, and others driving far too slow. There was no rhyme or reason to it. Slow cars pottered at 80km/hr in the right hand land, whereas other cars roared at 110km/hr+ on the other side of me in the left hand lane. It was a stressful drive. I had a headache by the end of it.

Obviously, the cars going at 110km/hr+ are not driving responsibly. But I often wonder if cars driving at 80km/hr think that they are being “safe” because they are driving below the speed limit? I don’t mind cars driving at 80km/hr on the freeway if there’s a reason for it. But if there is a clear road ahead of the car and no obstructions or rain, it is actually dangerous to drive at well below the speed limit on a freeway. The cars which are keeping to the speed limit or going above the speed limit roar around the “slow coach”, overtaking on both the left and the right. There is more likelihood of a collision if people are darting in and out of lanes and getting frustrated.

I also hate it when a car tailgates me, when they should be able to see I can’t go any faster because (a) I am on the speed limit or (b) there are six cars in front of me. Funnily enough, a car was overtaking other cars like crazy on the freeway a few weeks ago, risking life and limb by darting in between lanes and coming up right behind other cars. Later, as I went up the exit ramp, I pulled up…beside the very same car. I guess all his darting and weaving didn’t get him much further ahead!

I mention this because of the terrible car accident in the Burnley Tunnel on Friday. It seems to have happened partially because two cars were trying to move away from a broken-down truck, and collided with another truck in the next lane.

I learned to drive in the UK, and when I returned to Australia, I was shocked by the lack of discipline on Australian roads. (A friend from Mumbai tells me I ain’t seen nothing yet – driving in Australia is child’s play compared to driving in India. For one thing, you have to stop for cows on the road in India.)

I note that a world expert has said Australian drivers are unaware of “tunnel etiquette”. I would say that there needs to be a greater awareness of driver etiquette generally. On English motorways, “slow” drivers take the left hand lane, “medium” drivers take the middle lane and “fast” drivers take the right hand lane. Initially, being a undisciplined Aussie, I thought this was crazy (akin to the English desire to queue) but it does minimise chaos caused by people trying to dart around “slow” drivers. Also in England, there doesn’t seem to be the same reluctance to let people in to moving traffic. A little bit of politeness can help frustration on the road. I always wave thanks to people when they let me in or are generally polite on the road.

It’s all too easy to get frustrated and forget that you are in a fast-moving vehicle which can cause harm to yourself and others if you lose control of it. When I hear people whinging about low speed limits outside schools, I think of the time my sister got hit by a car outside our school, and flew 20 whoops, I meant 2 metres through the air. (20 metres would be pretty spectacular!) Luckily, she was okay, but if the driver had been going just 5km faster, she would have sustained more serious injuries, or worse. As it was, she was concussed, scratched and had a badly broken leg.

Which brings me to the point of this post: is it worth risking your life (and worse, the life of other innocent people) simply to get one car ahead? I don’t think so.

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11 Comments

Filed under accidents, cars, society

11 responses to “Is it worth risking your life to get one car ahead?

  1. Peter

    I agree, it’s impatience not speed that kills.

  2. Anonymous

    Twenty metres through the air? Okay Captain Exaggerator…

  3. Legal Eagle

    Whoops, I meant 2 metres… typo…

  4. Anonymous

    People who dont understand the concept of KEEP LEFT shouldnt be licensed. But some main roads with exits on both sides could do well to have a centre overtaking lane.

  5. Anonymous

    It’s probably fun to complain, and we all know it’s been popular to complain about others driving for a long long time. But it’s all coming from expectation. How you expect others to behave and how they should consider you in their actions, and by extension, everyone else. It’s vanity out of control. Who gives a shit about you when they’re driving. Everyone is driving for their own reasons, in their own cars, to their own unique destinations, with their own style of driving. Lower your expectations of how you consider others should consider you, react accordingly and everything will be FINE!

    And do go overseas to see how this works. I’ve been to Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and a couple of other places where the roads appear to be choatic. But it all works, and I’ve never seen an accident. So they must be doing something right.

  6. Legal Eagle

    Peter, I agree that speed is not the whole of the problem. Speed does have an impact on reaction time, ability to get out of a problematic situation and how fast one can stop in an emergency. But all kinds of other things have an impact on dangerous driving – impatience, drug and alcohol use, road design and upkeep.

    Anonymous at 7:11am, I am not sure I agree with your analysis of South East Asian roads. I have been to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia.

    I think that the road use in such countries is intrinsically accepting of other users of the road. So in Vietnam, for example, one just has to step out into the traffic and cars pass around you. Pedestrians are an accepted part of road use. Whereas if you do that here (and I did when I first got back from Asia) you’ll just get honked and almost run over. The thing that makes Asia different is the diverse mix of traffic compared to Australia: cars, mopeds, buses, motorbikes, bicycles, tuk-tuks, cyclos, rickshaws, trucks, pedestrians, animals, you name it, it might be on the road. The road quality is often less than here, so traffic generally goes more slowly. Basically, drivers have to be accepting of others on the road. There’s not the same diversity here in Australia.

    Just because you haven’t seen accidents in South East Asia doesn’t mean that they don’t happen. My Vietnamese friend’s husband had a pretty shocking accident on his motorbike a few years back, although he did recover in time. I think when accidents do happen in such countries, they’re pretty devastating. Often, various modes of transport are over crowded (buses, bikes, trucks). The maximum number of people I saw on a motorbike was 5 people (Mum, Dad, two children and a grandma). Sometimes, motorbikes would have various livestock strapped to them. No one wears helmets on bicycles and motorbikes.

    My Chinese friend tells me that cyclists who don’t have a car are very irritating to drive with, as they have no idea of what it is like to drive a car, and no sense of the power a car has.

    So I’m a bit wary of idealising the situation in Asia.

  7. CFQ

    I totally agree, Anonymous. It would make driving (and walking on the footpath, going up escalators, all of it) so much easier if people would just keep left. And madly changing lanes more often than not doesn’t get you there any faster – drive down Parramatta Road in Sydney at just about any time of day and you’ll see that first-hand.

  8. Paul

    anonymous, the roads in South East Asia are phenomenally dangerous, do some research into their accident statistics.

    I think you obliquely hit on a huge problem with the way people drive in Australia. I must confess to suffering from minor road rage myself at times, although it’s confined to me getting annoyed rather than driving like a lunatic. But if other drivers would just OBEY the road rules and basic etiquette, then driving would be so much less frustrating.

    And I don’t mean the drivers who speed. In my experience people who drive a little over the speed limit tend to be the best drivers, because they have confidence and appreciate what has to be done to make traffic flow smoothly. I mean the ones who drive too slowly, who come to a near complete stop before turning off a major road, who drive out into roundabouts and intersections before stopping to check if it’s clear, who don’t get over to the left, and so on. I actually wish the police would spend more time harassing these people and less time handing out speeding fines on flat, wide, straight stretches of road where it makes absolutely no difference to anyone.

    Road design is also pathetic in Australia.

    And the obsession with ‘speed kills’ is out of control and creates much frustration – “traffic calming” measures have the exact opposite effect, and many areas are 40 or 50 zones when they should be 60 or even 80.

    I live in Adelaide – if this city had synchronised traffic lights that alone would eliminate much of the frustration of driving.

  9. Legal Eagle

    Paul, I agree – the aim should be to make people drive more smoothly (less lane changes, less abrupt stops and the like). I hate it when people roar ahead and then suddenly slam on the brakes. Driving smoothly (a) wastes less petrol (a good thing for the environment) and (b) is less dangerous for all. Road design could help greatly with this (for example, the freeway I malign in my post has the most extraordinarily badly designed off ramps and on ramps which make merging very difficult).

  10. Anonymous

    Hi Legal Eagle,

    It probably doesn’t help that people generally tend to overestimate their own abilities relative to others – in plain English, most people think they’re a better driver than the average driver (which of course can’t be right!).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overconfidence_effect

  11. Pingback: Career choices... « The Legal Soapbox

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