Five dud drivers you'll find in the city
When you think about those sweet, neat moments when you find yourself really enjoying the physical experience of driving a car, how many of those happen in the city?
If you live in Canberra, a kind of almost-city with a road network that seems to be entirely made up of long sweeping corners and circles, your answer might be quite positive, because outside of its not-really peak hours, there is some enjoyment to be had.
But if you live in any of our bigger cities, Sydney or Melbourne in particular, those moments of driving joy are likely few and very far between, at least while you’re within their busy borders. (If you own something super, like a Ferrari or a Porsche, of course, you can enjoy just sitting still in your car, so even commuting is probably fun for you, which is why the rest of us are glaring at you. Just so you know.)
Hell isn’t driving through choking traffic jams, cruel roadworks and incomprehensible delays, though, hell is other people.
And it is perhaps because driving in the city is so frustrating that it brings out the very worst in drivers, who behave in ways that would seem violently stupid if they were translated into pedestrian behaviour. Imagine a stranger walking so close behind you that they keep standing on your heels, then running past and coming to a sudden stop right in front of you. It would be tempting to slap them.
On the road, however, you are effectively anonymous, and quite difficult to slap, which is perhaps why some people seem to think they can get away with driving like an idiot.
Here is our helpful list of the kind of drivers you’ll only encounter in the city. Hopefully you won’t recognise yourself.
Older drivers can probably just remember the golden days of yore, before the ubiquitous mobile phone inveigled its way into our lives, and our cars.
Today, it is hard to drive from one side of Sydney to another without seeing at least half a dozen people on their phones - white-van drivers juggling their device and a clipboard on the steering wheel, harried executives jamming the damn thing into their ear and shouting, or, most terrifying, young boys and girls texting and driving at the same time.
And that person who’s sitting at the lights in front of you, unmoving even though green means go? They’re reading an email on their phone, and yes, that does make it okay to use your horn on them.
What’s hard to believe is how little the spread of Bluetooth, and even more ingenious and safe systems like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, has done to reduce the number of drivers taking unnecessary risks by doing things like checking Facebook at the wheel.
Mobile phones, sadly, seem even more addictive than cigarettes, or crack cocaine, and in a car they can be almost as dangerous, because every second you’re looking at them, you’re not watching the road.
Ask any senior traffic cop about the biggest cause of road carnage today and once they’ve stopped banging on about the evils of speed, they’ll quickly turn to mobile phones. Frankly, fining people doesn’t work. The police should be allowed to smash your phone on the spot. That might make some difference.
Living in big cities seems to do something to our perception of time, essentially speeding up life, particularly compared to the almost catatonic pace of, say, a country town, or the deep outback.
There just never seems to be enough time, and the minutes, or hours, we spend commuting every day eat up an amount of it that many of us resent, and even more so when something goes wrong, our journey slows and we find ourselves running late.
Some people, however, seem to be in a permanent state of late, or at least in a desperate, mad hurry to get where they’re going. It's the only way to explain the way some drivers attack city roads, attempting to barge, slice or swerve their way through traffic and sending a clear message that they need to get to their vital destination before you get to yours.
That space in front of your car, it belongs to them, and frankly you’re in their way. We’ve all seen this kind of driver, and I’m sorry to say they tend to be overwhelmingly male. They will not wait in a queue of traffic, they will pull out, dive into another lane, and then jam their way back in further up the line.
Sadly, infuriatingly, someone always lets them do this, because as much as our cities’ roads seem to be heavily populated by aggressors, there are plenty of meek supplicants as well. Thank goodness.
The Rushins will also dive in front of you to get that first, pole position at a red light, and will then accelerate away from the intersection as if their accelerator pedal has just said something offensive to them.
And if they can’t get past you, they will sit so close to your bumper that you can’t see their headlights, only the burning orbs of their manic eyes, staring at your rear vision mirror, and willing you out of their way.
These people really need to move to the country, but the rush they get from driving like they’re in a constant car chase is probably too addictive.
When it comes to panic braking or, even worse, driving with one foot almost constantly on the brake pedal, taxi drivers - another scourge you only have to put up with in cities - are by far the worst offenders.
Personally I’ve been in cabs where it’s become obvious that the driver thinks the pedal on the left is the one that controls speed, and they’re not quite sure what the other one is for.
People who ride their brakes are annoying, but it’s the panic stoppers, the ones who slam the stop pedal as if it’s got a giant huntsman on it at even the slightest provocation, who are a real problem.
These panicky drivers do some of their worst work in multi-storey car parks, but you’ll find them everywhere in big cities, and they cause plenty of accidents, too. There’s a good reason that rear-enders are the most common kind of crash claimed for on insurance. Hopefully the spread of AEB will help. But not soon enough.
Sure, humans are pretty clever. We worked out fire, farming and fantastic machines, but there are some things that are beyond us, like merging in traffic.
Not all of us, of course, just what seems to be the vast majority.
Merging is one of those things you simply have to deal with in cities, and when people fail to do so, it causes a long chain of misery behind them. How many times have you seen a giant freeway crawl to a halt, assumed there must be an accident ahead, and then discovered that all of the stall was due to an on-ramp and the inability of the people on it to merge seamlessly into the moving stream of traffic?
Sometimes it’s not the people attempting to get on that are the problem, of course, because an equal number of drivers seem to be rubbish at letting people in. The Rushins fall into this category, obviously.
Dealing with Merging Muppets really is one of those unique, city-living experiences we’d all rather live without. (Fortunately, we’ve got a helpful guide on how to do it properly, here.)
Alongside cyclists, who belong on the road in the same way that vomit belongs on your couch (sure, it’s legal to put it there, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea), the other road users you only ever see in cities are scooter riders. And they’re all either mad, or not enamoured with the idea of a long life.
All motorcyclists are crazy, of course, because they ride in complete defiance of the statistics, which makes them a bit like smokers.
The fact is that driving your car with no seatbelt on while drunk and typing a text message on your phone is safer than riding a motorcycle on Australian roads. Having a BAC over 0.05 only increases your risk of dying by seven times, texting by four times and going without a seat belt doubles it.
According to Queensland’s Centre For Accident Research and Road safety, riding a bike makes you 30 times more likely to be killed on the road than being the occupant of a car. And if you fall off, which you will, your rate of serious injury is a staggering 41 times higher than being in a car accident.
At least on a proper motorcycle you can kid yourself you’ve got the power and speed to stay ahead of all the cars that are trying to kill you, and fantastic brakes too, but on a scooter you’re just a smear on the pavement waiting to happen.
Perhaps scooter riders know this, and they want to go out looking good, which would explain why you see so many of them in cities eschewing safety gear in favour of pencil skirts, high heels or shiny suits.
While it would be easy just to look upon them with pity, the problem with them, as road users, is that they like to increase their already outrageous levels of risk by lane splitting and generally zipping and zapping through traffic like annoying little motorised bees. And they’re even more annoying if they accidentally find themselves on a motorway, because they’re not really fast enough to keep up with the flow of traffic.
Country people are lucky, because you never, ever see a scooter out there.