Opinion: Drivers need to kill their crankiness - before they kill a person

  • 10/10/2018

By Duncan Wilson

OPINION: Can we all try and be a bit less aggro? On our roads, I mean. Go for a walk about Auckland and the stench of motorist anger is more pungent than sticky asphalt over summer.

I know driving is inherently stressful. As a motorist, you're promised a fast-moving steel capsule, ready to propel you to your destination at 100km/h - even faster in many cases.

Except we're 'held up' by speed limits, queues of other cars, traffic lights, zebra crossings, speed bumps, queues of other cars, 'booze buses', rail crossings, schools, queues of other cars, pedestrians, queues of other cars, queues of other cars and cyclists.

Boring! Get out the way, things!

No wonder a Massey University study this year found two-thirds of Kiwi drivers experience "mild to severe anxiety" when on the road. If you shut me away in a metal box and made me queue up behind hundreds of other smoking boxes for 60 minutes of my day, I'd be freaking out all the time as well.

Out of all the factors forcing me to drive below 100km/h literally all of the time, I'd probably pick the easier targets to vent my fury at: cyclists - possibly the odd pedestrian too, but definitely cyclists.

Wazzocks in lycra: I'm sure to have the wisdom of crowds on my side if I choose to have a go at that mob, eh?

Small surprise, then, that the two-wheeled brigade recently found themselves on the receiving end of yet another fuming Auckland motorist's rage. On his way home to Piha, car human Pieter Kruger shot footage of two bike humans pedalling harmlessly up west Auckland's imaginatively named West Coast Rd.

Their supposed crime? Riding two abreast. That's it: there was no threat to other road users' lives, they weren't speeding, they weren't even emitting greenhouse gases. They were clean.

Infuriated by the two people and the 21 seconds they cost him, Mr Kruger is heard on the video yelling "Come on guys, single file!"

As all deserving vehicle licence holders will know, cyclists are allowed to ride two abreast. There are perfectly good reasons for this, and many of us know them, since we're all familiar with the road code. Great, pleased we all agree the commentary was unwarranted.

The code for cyclists does state "you must move as far as possible to the left side of the road to allow traffic to pass". Since the riders in the video were using a road with a solid white centre line, even in single file it's debatable whether a vehicle could pass and allow the minimum 1.5 metres between them and the bike.

And all this goes without knowing what loose junk the pair were having to dodge on the road at the time. Yes, all those loose screws that roll out the back of the ute end up on the sides of the road, well it's prudent to stay clear of them on a bike. It's the job of 'the overtaker' to ensure they keep a safe distance and pass only when it's safe to do so.

As a self-proclaimed cyclist himself, I'm in no doubt Mr Kruger knows all this. His words were most likely a hangover from the soulless act of having crawled up Auckland's northwestern motorway at 15km/h - an act which places even the lightest breathers in an exhaust-induced coma - before trawling through Henderson behind smoking trucks, many of which should be reserved for announcing a new Pope, not handed a WOF.

I'm familiar with West Coast Rd and its surroundings. Anyone wanting to film dangerous traffic misdemeanours on this road would do better setting up a tripod by a bend and snapping the number of cars crossing the centre line on a busy summer Saturday. The same goes for nearby Forest Hill Rd, which is itself a top casino for players of corner-cutting roulette.

To reap further community-minded bonus points, one might even like to educate the swathes of rural pedestrians who seem to think not facing oncoming traffic while walking down the road is a smart idea. It isn't, which is precisely why the road code says to do otherwise.

Roads were designed with one purpose in mind: moving people from A to B. Not one mode of transport has priority, unless that's made obvious by the signage. It's a sharing plate, loaded with buffalo wings, hot chips, kale and prunes. Some items we skip, some are better for us and some get where they're going a bit quicker. But the plate still comes out with everything on.

Cars are unfortunate, since they're sold under the false pretence of 'ultimate freedom'. Advertising campaigns show beefed up 4WDs tearing about mountainous Aotearoa, with no other vehicles in sight. Tragically, when you get your purchase out on the road, the reality often involves staring mindlessly at the rear end of someone else's purchase and counting down your life.

If you want to try real freedom, hop on a bike and go feel the air rush past you. Just keep to the speed limit and do move over for others if or when you can.

And if you really have to drive, I get it: it makes us all angry. Just try and kill your crankiness, not a human.

Duncan Wilson is a producer for The AM Show