The Fast and the Slightly Irritated

POLICE reporting has the tendency to make you paranoid, especially about getting behind the wheel.

Every week I get to catalogue the number of drink drivers, unlicensed motorists and various car crashes happening throughout the Redlands.

This paranoia probably reached its apex last year, when I was invited to cover a police-run driver attitudes workshop.

Established to highlight to drivers the importance of attitudes behind the wheel and the impact of crashes, the workshop featured the harrowing personal accounts of highway patrol officers, firefighters, the director of Redland Hospital’s emergency department and the mother of a car crash victim.

The night ended with an eight and a half minute montage of real and simulated crashes. Needless to say, the three kilometre drive home wasn’t the most enjoyable I’ve had.

Thankfully, given the lack of highways running through my little corner of South East Queensland most of the crashes I cover are relatively minor, happen at low speed and are usually caused by one vehicle rear-ending another.

There have, however, been a couple of fatalities from car crashes in our distribution area, mostly in the rural patches or on the islands.

Reading through the details of crashes involving two or more vehicles tends to provoke the most concern, especially when noting the cause of the crashes.

In the film Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg’s straight-laced cop corrects a colleague over the terminology of a car crash, claiming the word “accident” implies there’s no-one to blame. While his semantics are played for comedic effect, the vast majority of crashes are due to human error.

A driver can be tailgating, travelling too fast, texting, overtired, inattentive or even under the influence of alcohol when a crash happens.

Looking around at other motorists on any given day, you can see how crashes can happen. People stopped at traffic lights behind me seem to be extremely fascinated with their laps, while many drivers using roundabouts either don’t know of the existence of indicators, or are playing a covert little game to keep everyone else second-guessing.

“Hmm, this jerk thinks I’m going to pass straight through this roundabout. Well, joke’s on him: he’s going to be so surprised when I turn right from the left hand lane without indicating! Trollolololol…” they presumably think as they flout several road rules and risk a write-off.

Even this afternoon, a fellow in a ute behind me on the M1 thought it would be a brilliant idea to sit a metre or two behind my bumper bar in an 100km/h zone.

That’s not to say I’m in any position to moralise. There are two versions of Stephen: Regular Driver Stephen, who I’d regard as a reasonably safe, patient driver. Then there’s Peak Hour Stephen, Running Late Stephen or, heaven forbid, Stuck Behind A Slow-Moving Caravan On A Two-Lane Highway Stephen, who could be mistaken as Malcolm Tucker’s long-lost Australian son.

I’ve also been in a car crash before, the circumstances of which can only be considered amusing by virtue of the fact no-one was hurt.

It happened on a rainy day in late autumn on the Waterfall Way between Armidale and the coast. Anyone who’s driven along the road knows that, while it isn’t the safest thoroughfare, it’s usually fine as long the conditions are right.

Slowing down to round a notorious bend just east of Hillgrove, a flock of rosellas appeared on the road in front of me. I waited for them to fly away. They didn’t. Panicking, I slammed on the brakes, the wheels locked on the slippery surface and I left the road, knocking over some signs and coming to rest down an embankment.

Yes, rosellas. My crash was directly related to parrots.

The damage to the car’s underside made it a write-off, but I didn’t know that at the time: I was travelling slowly enough at the time of the crash for any scratches to appear superficial.

The police soon arrived to take a statement and perform traffic control around the crash scene. As I was speaking to one of the officers, another car flew around the corner, travelling well above the recommended speed limit.

The driver saw the police too late, slammed on the brakes and flew off the road, smashing into a tree.

While the driver was alright, their car was in much worse shape than mine. So, tally so far: a bunch of rosellas on the road = two crashes and one lane of traffic on the main east-west arterial road between New England and the mid north coast blocked.

Then a television news crew arrived! Not only did my crash have a domino effect, but my exploits were going to appear on the nightly news. Soon enough the police needed to block traffic in both directions.

So, the final tally: a bunch of rosellas on the road = two crashes, a TV news story and all traffic on the main east-west arterial road between New England and the mid north coast stopped for at least an hour.

The crash spawned a renewed respect for/fear of our feathered friends, and taught me a lesson about safe driving, especially in country areas. I have no desire to ever stand shivering in single degree temperatures in bushland ever again.

I also learned how quickly circumstances can change. One minute I was travelling happily along, thinking of a weekend at the coast, the next I was contemplating three months stuck in Armidale without a car.

I guess that’s the main message: one miscalculation, one error of judgment while behind the wheel of a metal box powered by liquefied dinosaurs can have a major impact on your life or the lives of others.

It’s not enough to elicit fears of ever getting behind the wheel again, but bears consideration every now and then, especially when you get the urge to encourage the driver in front to hurry up by tailgating, or check the text message your friend just sent.

Oh, and for the love of all that is holy, please learn how to correctly navigate roundabouts!

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