Another weekend of horrific road deaths, bringing to 63 the number of people killed on our roads since the first of January. That is almost exactly the number of days that have so far passed in the year and, please God, the figure will still be correct when you are reading this. Behind the cold, stark statistic of 63 lie real families, real people; some shocked at their loss while others look on at loved ones who may have escaped death, but are seriously injured. Those families share the shock and horror of the bereaved families. Indeed as difficult as it sounds, I am sure the thought that outright death might have been easier, will crop up from time to time.
One of the road safety television advertisements depicts this scenario quite well but has it had any real impact on road user behaviour? I’m not really sure how they measure the effect, but if we are looking at road death figures, surely an average of one person a day in a country this small is too high. Are we to believe that without the television campaign the numbers would be even higher?
Everyone has their opinions on the cause of the current situation. ‘Young fellas with souped up cars’, tends to be a common enough view. ‘Inexperienced drivers on busy roads’; the poor old provisionally licensed often have an accusatory finger pointed in their direction. ‘All those foreigners in left hand drive cars’, another popular belief. Speed and drink, both together and separately, are cited and, sometimes, poor signage when it comes to road works or diversions can lead to confusion. ‘Aggressive truckers in big rigs’. Talk to the truck drivers and they will tell you it’s the ‘Nissan Micra’ drivers! Isn’t it funny how we can always come up with a group or demographic to blame, but always one that we personally don’t fall into?
I have my own opinions about other road users. The annoying ‘Sunday Drivers’ out on a Wednesday, hogging the middle of the road at thirty miles an hour and creating a long stream behind them, all of whom are getting increasingly agitated at this funeral procession. It automatically promotes foolish, risky overtaking. I have also noticed that the ‘young fellas with the souped up cars’ group are actually not that bad. Most of these guys invest a lot of time and money in their cars and, on their own, they seem to be fairly competent. What I have noticed is that groups of young men in cars tend to be the bigger issue. Generally if I see three or four guys in a Ford Fiesta I quickly let them pass. Obviously the testosterone levels are far too great for the Fiesta to contain and it always seems to result in fast, wreckless driving. (Watch any David Attenborough programme on the great apes and similar behaviour is displayed when someone is trying to be Alpha Male!)
Of course this is a human trait and knows no cultural boundaries so add a left hand drive car to the scenario and then you really have an accident waiting to happen.
I witnessed a more recent phenomenon last week, the driver in the school uniform; a most unhelpful development. I was in a petrol station forecourt around lunchtime when four school uniformed youths in a small car pulled into the garage from a main road without indicating. This particular garage is near enough to a secondary school and there were many other students in the same uniform milling around who had obviously managed the walk of half a kilometer or so to the shop. Obviously the driver’s parents knew this kid had access to a car, but there are several other questions. Did the driver’s parents know that he was piling his pals into it for a lunchtime jaunt? Worse still, did the parents of his passengers, Johnny, Mick and Paddy (obviously not their real names) know that the lives of their precious sons were in such unreliable hands? One wonders if he didn’t know how to use the indicator or if the car itself was without them!
The students in this situation are not to blame. If I was given a car at seventeen I too would have been delighted to share this wonderful freedom with my friends at any given opportunity. On the other hand if it had been one of my friends with the car, knowing me, I would have been one of the willing passengers! The effervescence of youth blocks out many dangers. Physically driving a car is not that difficult, but because it is a lethal machine children are not allowed drive cars on the road. I expect that had the authorities foreseen a day when school children would be driving cars without adult supervision the licensing age would have been set higher. I can understand reasons for giving a school student a car; you may live several miles from the school or the bus system may be unreliable or non existent or your timetable isn’t the same as the school’s. The car is necessary but it is also vital to lay down rules and monitor the situation.
Somebody once stated that giving a car to teenagers is the same as handing them a loaded gun. As time passes it rings with more and more truth, but I think it’s not just about teenagers. The age of the driver isn’t an automatic measure of wisdom. A car is a powerful weapon in anyone’s hands, young or old. The authorities certainly need to do more but until then, however, it is up to each of us, the individual driver to be more conscientious and teach those same values to young people. Be careful out there and safe driving.