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Have we forgotten how to drive?

Greg Devine

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Highway code book. Book of traffic rules and law with traffic road sign and traffic light.

A few weeks ago, the new Highway Code came into force with some controversial changes. The new rules centre on improving safety for the most vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists. A hierarchy has been introduced, and the higher up this chain you sit, the more responsibility you must take in order to protect other road users. For example, a horse rider has a responsibility to reduce danger to pedestrians, whereas a car or lorry would have a responsibility to limit risks for the horse rider.


It's important to remember that this doesn’t mean those lower down the hierarchy can drive as they please. Vulnerable road users should still take measures to ensure their own safety; the hierarchy exists to encourage road users to be extra careful around those more vulnerable than themselves.


The other main rule introduced means that, on a corner, pedestrians now have right of way over all other road users. This has caused a lot of controversy. I must admit, I really don’t understand the motivation of this new rule. As a driver, it seems more dangerous to me if pedestrians just step out from said corner onto a road, as visibility can be poor in these situations, particularly in high density areas. I’ve also found it has made me an overly confident pedestrian; I find myself just stepping out from junctions into the middle of the road, with the belief that ‘it’s my right of way’. When I jump out of my skin from the booming horn of a lorry, I change my mind and think that it’s perhaps better to go back to how we were taught to cross the road by the hedgehogs in the early 2000s.


We do seem to have turned into a country of poor drivers, as described in this article. I passed my test in 2019 and I felt a lot safer driving when I’d just passed to how I feel now. Most of my early driving days were spent in Sheffield, which, if you’re not aware of the area, is a particularly challenging city to drive through. 2019 Sheffield drivers were a lot more cautious and polite than their 2022 equivalents.


Maybe the pandemic had something to do with it. Many people, who would have made five journeys a week at least, didn’t drive for months at a time in lockdown—even if they did, it was only to the local supermarket and back. Maybe we all forgot the correct way to drive when things opened back up. You’re taught to be a defensive driver rather than a boisterous, offensive one, but the latter does seem more common today.

mage of a woman holding and using mobile phone with blank screen while driving car

mage of a woman holding and using mobile phone with blank screen while driving car

Holding the issue against a specific age range would be unfair. Around a year ago, I had to undertake a driver awareness course, having been caught going through a red-light camera. The other participants were of all ages and split almost 50/50 between male and female. Everybody was there for different reasons, including running a red light or driving too close to a cyclist. When the instructor went through the many ways we could improve our driving, I learned nothing new—it was abundantly clear that we had all chosen to be an offensive driver the day we were caught.


Working as a supermarket delivery driver made it even more apparent to me the number of uncourteous drivers there are on the road. In the six months I carried out this role, I can count on one hand the number of times a driver flashed me out of a junction. I don’t have enough digits to count the times a car drove so close to the back of my van I could smell their breath. Even worse were the notorious Chelsea Tractor drivers who believed their Range Rover required two lanes and were immune to simply flicking their indicator stalk.


At least the new rules address one vital issue: using a mobile phone when driving. The authorities are really cracking down on this, given there’s no reason to ever use your phone when in control of a moving vehicle. There’s no exception, should you want to change a song or recentre your satnav; if you’re caught even touching your phone whilst driving, you’ll instantly receive six points and a fine. This ruling has made using a mobile phone to pay at a drive-thru contentious. Just the other day, I saw a police officer on TikTok trying to clarify the issue. He said that you shouldn’t touch your phone to pay until you reach the relevant window and activate your handbrake. Only then should you grab it to make your contactless payment. I’m fully for these new rules; there’s nothing more infuriating than seeing a driver using a mobile phone as he’s ploughing down the road at high speed (or, worse still, the motorway), putting themselves at risk, as well as innocent road users.


With some luck, drivers will adopt these new rules and return to their confident yet courteous ways. I’m not holding my breath.

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