When I see an Audi appear in my rear view mirror, I know that invariably, next time I look up, I’ll be able to count the blackheads on the bastard’s nose. Of course I’m generalising, not all Audi drivers are arseholes, but there is definitely a bias in my limited, anecdotal research, that suggests drivers of German cars are more aggressive. Just like drivers of Nissan Qashquais (or however you spell that awful name) and Range Rovers are life-threateningly inept, and I’ll be stuck behind a Ford Ka doing 47 mph on a national speed limit road.
I am relatively new to driving; in my 32nd year of existence I decided I would obtain a driving license. I was made redundant in January and had a reasonable chunk of money in redundancy from nine years of service, so I paid for an intensive driving course. If you don’t already and want to learn to drive, or know someone who will be, if you can possibly afford it, do a three week intensive course. It was brilliant, all very easy and i passed first time, which is apparently rare these days. Despite only being a driver since April, I’ve done probably at least two-thirds of the 10,000 miles our Toyota Yaris has done since we got it. I commute 48 miles to work and back every day, so I see a fair bit of the road in any given week.
What I’ve noticed, which I never really paid any attention to before is that driving (with a small ‘d’), or getting in a machine and using it to transport oneself and ones cargo from one location on Earth to another, is not in fact what most people do when they get in a car. What most people do is Driving (note the capital ‘D’). They are two very different things driving and Driving. Let me explain…
Small-d driving is what I thought everyone did when they got in a car. Start the engine, trundle along to ones destination and turn it off again. That’s what I needed to be able to do. However, that isn’t the whole story, Driving is much more than that, it’s an entirely new level of consciousness, with pretty much no analogue in real life.
The first thing I noticed when I got into a car for the first time alone and unsupervised, was suddenly how arrogant I automatically became. I’m normally a very considerate, polite and empathetic person. I apologise when I bump into someone, hold open doors for people and help lift pushchairs onto the train. I make an effort to make eye-contact with customer service pople in shops and say please and thank you, and participate in small talk if it is offered.
On the road though, if I see another car do something I think is rude, such as try and push in at a traffic light, I go out of my way to make it hard for them, or block them. If someone drives too close to my rear bumper, I’ll slow down quickly. I’ve even been known to stop in a busy street, delighting in the explosion of rage in my rear-view mirror. I drive at 85 or 90 mph on the motorway and get angry when people in front of me are going slower. The list goes on. WHY?!
I’ve stopped doing all of these things now I’ve realised it, but what caused it in the first place? Why does the mother of three, who participates in school fetes and runs the lottery syndicate at work feel the need to cut me up at a roundabout and give me the finger from her BMW X3? Is she this rude to people who get in her way in Sainsbury’s? I very much doubt it. Why does the man who is so careful to ensure he has a circuit breaker equipped when he mows the lawn, turns off the sockets on his TV equipment at night and always tethers his ladder when he washes the windows, why does he drive six inches from my rear bumper when I’m doing 85 mph, no chance whatsoever of avoiding an undoubtably fatal accident should I stop suddenly?
Cyclists harrassed, pedestrians driven at when they linger on crossings, curbs mounted at schools to get round traffic, dangerous overtaking on blind bends, lane-changing without indicating, et cetera, et cetera.
Take something equally as dangerous, outside of Driving and these people whould never be so gung-ho. Is it the fact that you’re locked away in a giant metal box and all but anonymous? Maybe.
This isn’t a rant about road safety, do what you like, just please don’t involve me. What I’m interested in is where this behaviour comes from. It’s not normal. I suppose it’s similar to the behaviour of anonymous people on the Internet, except while propelling 1.5 tonnes of steel at 70mph around the country and barely keeping control.
Driving for most people isn’t just travelling it’s something much more than that. It’s a complete shift in geography where the driver becomes the centre of the universe and everyone else is an enemy. I admit, I enjoy driving in its purest form. I enjoy piloting a machine from A to B as fast as is safe. It’s great fun. I do however hate Driving and this bizarre culture that has formed around it.
I blame Clarkson.