Last August I went out on a Friday night to conduct a lesson. It was the last time I will ever do it. It seemed to me that every other car was driven by a boy racer and the standard of driving by those that weren’t young men with an overload of testosterone were just as bad. The final straw came when I had to dual control my pupil on Bowaters roundabout due to a laughing maniac in a Lexus who decided cutting us up was funny! In a separate incident a couple of months later I was driving through Welling in the early hours of the morning. Waiting at a set of traffic lights turning right into Welling High Street, I started to move forward when the lights changed to green. 3 cars approaching from the left decided that their high speed race was more important than stopping at a red light – at least the first 2 did, screaming through at speeds in excess of 50mph. The 3rd car did stop only to jump the red light once we had completed our turn, overtaking us and tearing after his mates.
Now the biggest issue with both of these incidents isn’t the recklessness of the driving, although that is of concern. It is that this kind of behaviour is becoming more common because there is no attempt at policing it whatsoever. Every day I see multiple occurrences of wanton law-breaking on the roads, everything from using mobile phones to jumping red lights, from illegal parking to dangerous driving. Within government there seems to be a belief that simply introducing a law is sufficient to stop people doing things which may be dangerous. Rules without enforcement or without realistic threat of enforcement are rules which are not going to be adhered to, certainly not by those who can’t even spell ‘law’ let alone abide by it. When was the last time you saw the police stop someone? They know law-breaking goes on but they do not have either the resources or the inclination to do anything about it. Unfortunately, if we, as citizens, take evidence of careless or dangerous driving to them, they still won’t do anything.
The vast majority of drivers on the roads are reasonable most of the time. We also know that anyone can make a mistake. Answering the mobile phone when driving is not a mistake; it is a downright blatant breaking of the law. It is highly dangerous and if you haven’t had an accident while doing it then that is more by luck than skill. Why is it that the best drivers don’t talk on the mobile while they are driving? Because they know it is dangerous, in any situation. Speeding can be a mistake and the speed awareness courses are a good remedy for people who make that mistake. However, some speeding is not a mistake being instead a blatant breaking of the law – we can all tell the difference. Slowing down for a speed camera and then speeding up again is deliberate, not a mistake.
Why should I, as a law-abiding driver, bother to adhere to the rules? The likelihood of being caught is small and the punishment irrelevant. If a young driver was to not get insured on his car and get caught, he would get a £300 fine and 6 points. If he got insurance in the first place it could cost £2000. So it is cheaper to drive without insurance! Okay, he may get 6 points but is he really going to care? So why do I bother? For two reasons: First it is my livelihood at stake. Secondly, I have a sense of civic responsibility which means that I am going to abide by the law if I can. Unfortunately this attitude is in shorter supply today than in the past. Perhaps it is an age thing?
Now some will say that I am excessively concerned about what examples of law-breaking are important and which are not. My concern is that breaking the law ‘by a little bit’ is simply a precursor to breaking the law ‘by a lot’ and it is still breaking the law! When does failing to stop at an amber light turn into jumping a red light? Half a second later? At what speed in excess of the limit does it become a problem? If someone does 35mph in a 30 limit, is that really any different to doing 38 or 40? Yes, the consequences may be more serious but does that make the law-breaking any less serious? The consequences of law-breaking may be an issue of degree. The punishment may be an issue of degree. Law-breaking itself is absolute - you are either breaking the law or you are not! If you, even as a predominantly law-abiding citizen, do it, then stop. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem so stick to your principles and drive the way you should, completely within the law, to the best of your ability.
So, with the police having almost completely abdicated responsibility for enforcing road law, how are we going to stop this relentless push into driving without limits? In my opinion, every road user has a responsibility in this area. Society as a whole needs to take a stand against wanton law-breaking on the roads. Why do most people wear seatbelts when driving? Because the campaign back in the 1970’s got into society’s consciousness and as a result society demanded that seatbelts became the norm.
Take the very prevalent example of mobile phone use. If you currently do it, stop! If you wait until you are in traffic or at traffic lights, then stop because that is still illegal. When you get in the car, put your phone on silent and out of reach so that you are not tempted. If you need to use it, pull up somewhere safe and legal and then use it. If you are a passenger and the driver decides to use their phone, get them to pull over so you can get out. Don’t get back in until they put their phone out of reach. If you ring someone and you know they are driving, when they answer ask if they are hands-free. If not, then ring off. Take every opportunity to tell people what you think of those who use their mobile when driving. Lead by example. If we make this activity distasteful enough and those that do it idiots of a special class then maybe, just maybe, they will think twice the next time.