Mike Humble’s recent rant about his brush with incompetent drivers, and attitudes on the roads in the UK, was certainly food for thought – and it asks more questions than it answers. Personally speaking, and after many, many years on the road, during a long and sometimes painful driving career, I have been forced to come to some alternative conclusions.
I’ll agree that regular re-testing in the UK is an absolute must. The need to re-take one’s driving test every ten years will change people’s attitudes overnight – or at least have people preparing for their tests more or less constantly. It also creates jobs, and will lessen road accidents (how can it not, when everyone’s better educated). So it’s a win-win. And unlike age-related testing, ten-year re-testing validates experience no matter how old you are.
I don’t know about you, but I know that for someone who loves driving to his absolute core, and needs little excuse to jump behind the wheel and explore something new, going about my business in the UK is becoming increasingly tiresome. Driving standards here are absolutely dire, and I suspect that regular re-testing would only partially solve the problem.
Typically on any short journey, I’ll be subjected to: dangerous tailgating, aggressive lane-changing, speeding, inattention, lack of signalling, low awareness, and poor vehicle maintenance. Bad driving isn’t age-related – you’re just as likely to be hit by a 45-year old as you are a 17- or 65-year old, and it seems also that age has no direct correlation with experience and competency.
And what that says to me is that the core of the problem is attitude.
We’re a strange bunch, us Brits. We’re the nicest people you could find face-to-face – possessing dry wit, charm and good manners (on the whole). And yet, behind the wheel of a car, most of us become egotistical, selfish psychopaths. Walk into a shop and we’ll hold the door open for someone and let them through with a smile; but head to a two-into-one lane-merge at roadworks, and we’re bullies who are unwilling to help the other guy. And of course, that slows things down, making people even more testy.
We’re also an angry bunch. I put that down to being overcrowded, over-taxed and under-facilitated. We queue for our £1.50 per litre fuel, drive on congested poorly maintained roads, so it’s no wonder that blood pressures are rising. But then, car ownership is stressful, and driving more so.
But things could be improved. By addressing the core problem of driver attitudes.
I generally approach my driving as a learner – that is, I am always trying to improve what I do, and learn something new every day. I’m humble (oops). It’s an approach that generally serves me well, and although I am far from perfect as a driver, I know it, and I really do feel like I’m learning something new every day. And when I do make a mistake – I always apologise to the other driver. I do get frustrated with other people’s mistakes – of course I do – and I’ll whine about them behind the wheel, but I’ll rarely flash my lights or toot my horn. Why do that – as the chances are, they don’t know what they’ve done wrong.
For instance, I do stick to 30mph in 30mph zones. Religiously. And there’s very good reason for this that we don’t need to spell out here. But time and time again, I’ll be tailgated and verbally abused for doing so. Yet more often than not, when on a NSL, doing 60mph, I will find myself stuck behind similar drivers doing no more than 40mph. That’s more than a driver education issue – that’s just a lack of common sense.
And here I finally get to the point of this long ramble. Basically, somehow – and I don’t know how – but we just need an attitude change. It seems to me that far too many people treat driving as a right, rather than a privilege, and simply go about it without any care, thought or pride. To most people (it seems, and I do hate generalisations) driving is a non-thinking activity, and they go about it in the same way they would to warm up a pot of beans in the microwave. Food in, set time, brain in neutral, then PING, it’s over.
And it really shouldn’t be like that.
Let’s have 10-year re-tests by all means – it really in a win-win – but beyond that, let’s re-examine our entire approach to driving and other road users. Not that it really matters – because soon, petrol will be £2.50 per litre, and no one will be able to afford to drive anyway!