Because my parents never owned a car until after I had left home, and because I spent my youth living in cities, with not a lot of money (in the days before boundless credit card balances), I did not learn to drive until I was in my thirties. Which means that I had a young family before I owned a car, and that I missed out completely on the Boy Racer thing.
I enjoy driving – I am not especially slow on a journey, I believe, but I particularly enjoy the freedom from strain that comes from trying to drive politely and considerately, not taking risks, sticking to the rules – especially the speed limits. Defensive driving – you can’t beat it. I was taught to drive (in the sense of “I was guided through my driving test”) by a guy named Derek, who had previously been a driving instructor in the army, and he was a diamond. He made driving a sensible, logical, low-stress process based very largely on awareness and consideration for others. One of his catch-phrases is still with me – still plays in my head.
“The things which cause more accidents on the road than anything else are surprises,” said Derek. People going at the wrong speed, using the wrong lane, changing direction without signalling – all that sort of thing. “Surprises” is a broad category, but it does cover a lot of ground. We are all safer if we have a good idea what is going to happen next, what that driver over there is doing.
Some things contain an element of surprise just because that is the way they are; some things are designed badly, so that surprises can result (I have never understood, for example, the British fetish with landscaping slip-roads joining a motorway so that you cannot see the traffic which is about to be dumped into your lane until it arrives); some surprises are just a result of misunderstandings, or thoughtlessness, or stupidity. None of them are helpful.
I am, of course, leading up to a whinge.
My wife is currently recovering from a broken bone in her shoulder, so one of the things she is unable to do is drive. This means that I am the duty chauffeur for the school run – morning and evening – and it means I have increased my daily exposure to what passes for the rush hour traffic in these parts. Understand that I am not talking about the M25 here, but I am talking about the A1 – the main road from Edinburgh to London – at times of day when people wish to be somewhere else very soon, thank you very much, so get out of the way.
|Great - assuming the procedure is clear and universally understood|
Now then - roundabouts. I am a fan. They are not universally popular, but you know where you are with a roundabout. In the UK, you normally give way to anyone who is already on the roundabout, which (since we drive on the left, and circumnavigate our roundabouts clockwise) means you give way to traffic coming from your right. Dead easy. This has been complicated a little by the introduction of big, spiral roundabouts with defined lanes and traffic lights – these are good things if everyone follows the rules and nobody changes lanes or runs the red light, but they have introduced some different procedures and also a little confusion. There is also some additional complication introduced by rude or aggressive driving, and by simple ignorance of the rules.
Here is a photograph of the roundabout at which I am currently averaging about 2 to 3 slightly sweaty “moments” a week. My son’s school bus stops in a supermarket car park beyond exit A. When I am/we are on our way home again I have to emerge from the slip road at A, travel (clockwise) round the island and take the 3rd exit, along the A1 at B. To do this I wait for a suitable gap in the traffic, enter the roundabout, signalling right, keep right (adjacent to the island), signalling left as I pass the 2nd exit and then moving over to exit at point B in the left-hand lane.
The problem is that it is not unknown for traffic coming up the main road from C (and also aiming to exit at B) to attempt to overtake me on the roundabout on my left. It’s usually a guy in a tradesman’s van, but yesterday it was a well-groomed young lady in a well-groomed, white Honda CR-V. She had to brake fairly hard to avoid me as I moved across to rejoin the A1, and she wasn’t pleased.
Obviously I surprised the young lady – Derek would have been disappointed. I am not clear what else I could have done – I suppose I could have joined the continuing A1 in the outside lane, heading towards B, allowing the Honda to “undertake” me on my left, but I’m pretty sure that’s not correct either. As far as I am aware, the Honda should give way to me because I am on her right, and already on the roundabout. The fact that she is in a hurry and thinks that there is room to pass me on the roundabout is immaterial.
If I am mistaken then clearly I must change the way I behave on a roundabout, but the real disappointment is that there are lots of people negotiating lots of roundabouts all over Britain every day, and my 2 to 3 incidents a week at a relatively calm junction suggests that there is a lack of clear understanding of the rules. Maybe it’s me – but I don’t think so.