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Dangerous Drivers Dissected: Part One

Posted on Friday 16th February 2007 at 00:00
In the first part of a new series Ignorminious examines his pick of the most dangerous acts of total stupidity seen on a regular basis on Britain's roads. In Part One we look at how not to pass parked cars on a narrow road when there is traffic coming the other way.

I've chosen to start with this particular sin of the road because it is one that I see at least half a dozen times every time I drive to or from uni. It is the sort of careless mistake that so often results in a near miss and could easily end in a smash, but is so easy to avoid, just by taking your time and being aware of the other driver's intensions.

Picture the scene if you will: You are driving through a residential area. Every hundred yards or so are a group of three or four cars parked outside their respective houses. The road is not too narrow, but in order to pass the cars you will need to put your wheels a little way over the centre of the road.

Just as you are approaching this minor obstacle, you see a white van coming the other way. Time seems to slow down before your very eyes and for what feels like minutes you stare at the van and the parked cars, trying to judge who will get there first. You are still doing 30 at this point and you?re not looking to slow down because if you don't, you might just be the first through the gap.

A split second before you reach the first of the parked cars you realise that the van has not slowed down either and that you will be forced to pass the van and the cars at the same time. You start flicking your eyes between the car and the van, trying to imagine your car going through the gap. The van has loads of room on his side, but he seems pretty intent on making you squirm.

Snap decision: at the absolute last moment you call chicken and slam the brakes on hard! You don't have time to stop, but you slow just enough to give you the millisecond needed to jerk the wheel first one way and then the other, hardly knowing if what you are doing is right or wrong. You glance from one side to the other and fancy you can hear the air rush as you miss both the car and the van by less than an inch.

You've gotten away with it this time, but suppose you aren't so lucky next time? Whose fault would it be then? The van driver's? Yours? The owner of the parked car? Odds are as you?re pulling away, you mutter under your breath about the stupidity of the arse hole van driver for not giving you enough space. I know because I did earlier.

Let's run the scene again, but this time from the point of view of the van driver: You are driving through a residential area. Every hundred yards or so are a group of three or four cars parked outside their respective houses. The road is not too narrow, but in order to pass the cars, vehicles coming the other way will need to put their wheels a little way over the centre of the road.

You come up opposite a row of these parked cars and just as you are getting close you notice a car driver coming the other way. He doesn't have a lot of space to get through without venturing onto your side of the road, and no one in their right mind would try and squeeze through a gap like that when traffic is coming in the opposite direction.

You carry on going and are astounded to see that the car isn't slowing down at all. If anything it is speeding up and pulling out to overtake. Pulling out onto your side of the road. Your van is quite large and heavily loaded, and the road dips down at the edge. Go to close to the curb and you?re going to end up steering into it.

The car keeps coming at you and at the last minute swerves erratically, passing with barely an inch to spare on your side. You've made it through this time, but will you be as lucky next time round? Whose fault was it this time?

I'd argue that the most difficult of these scenarios is this third and final example: You are driving through a residential area. There are groups of cars parked every hundred yards or so along both sides of the road. At one point, the end of one line of parked cars is almost exactly opposite the start of another line, leaving a gap roughly one car wide.

You are approaching a line of cars on your side of the road and you notice a car coming the other way, preparing to overtake the cars on the other side of the road. You are in a hurry and so don't want to wait for the other car to pass both queues before you can pull out. The road is reasonably wide once you get past the cars on your side of the road. If you can just get there before the other car passes you, it may be possible for you to pull in and give way.

You keep your speed up and pull out to pass the cars, as does your opposite number coming the other way. As you near each other it suddenly becomes apparent that he's planning exactly the same trick and you?re going to meet right in the middle of it all.

You keep in to your side of the road as much as you can, but it is clear you won't be able to pass him like this. Finally you reach the end of the line and pull sharply to the right, almost clipping the last car in the row with your passenger door.

Luckily you got away with it this time & just. What about next time though? Do cats really only have nine lives?

I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that who is in the right and who is in the wrong largely depends on your perspective, and that even if priority is *clearly* yours, not every driver will see it like that. Never assume anything when attempting tight manoeuvres on busy roads. I doubt anything I say here will have changed the way anyone drives in Bristol & myself included & by the time I battle through the rush hour to get up to uni tomorrow, but if I'm able to make just one person stop and think, and perhaps be a little more careful and a little less selfish next time they go out driving then I've achieved something really special.

Next time on Dangerous Drivers Dissected: Ignorminious looks at roundabouts and how not to decide who really has right of way!

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