Why cars drive us all crazy

The Sunday Telegraph

Sunday 10 March 2002

The Sunday Telegraph – Sunday 10 March 2002

Why cars drive us all crazy


If striking bus drivers had anything to answer for last week, it was unleashing a tidal wave of cantankerous Sydney drivers on our roads.

With a 48-hour strike in force, commuters were left with little choice but to nose their cars out of the driveway and on to the streets.

Unfortunately, they did it with the aggression, rudeness and intolerance that so distinguishes Sydney drivers.

Former world motorcycling champion Barry Sheene, who has lived in Australia for 15 years, says we're the worst drivers on the planet.

We're cranky, we're mean, we think we own the roads, and we treat it as a personal affront when someone tries to overtake. We also don't know the road rules -- especially at roundabouts and crossings.

“Everyone talks about speed being the problem. I think that's crap. The problem is, people don't understand how the road works,'' Sheene says.

“How hard can it be to understand that you can't sit in the overtaking lane on a freeway doing 70km/h? If you give them a flash to move over, they jump on the brakes.

“The sad part is that bad driving is being handed down from generation to generation, like an heirloom.''

A step in the right direction was introducing fees for licence knowledge tests, which now cost $30 a pop.

Complaints about the increase came mainly from the cash-bitten parents of teenagers eager to unleash themselves on our roads.

But the old system meant learners could sit as many multiple-choice exams as they wanted, with little study of road rules, until they fluked a pass.

Harold Scruby, chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia, argues that the system ignores some serious offences, yet targets minor speeding infringements.

Scruby advocates an overhaul of the system to rewrite penalties and push the enforcement of what are sometimes seen as less important offences, such as driving the wrong way down a one-way street or talking on a mobile phone while driving.

Re-testing should also be mandatory for drivers who have lost their licences, he says.

In 1995, the Premier promised to make our roads the safest in the world by 2000. Clearly, with a road-death rate of nine per 100,000, higher than in countries such as Britain, that's not the case.

Perhaps it's time - especially in the lead-up to an election - for Bob Carr and his star entertainer, Police Minister Michael Costa, to make road safety - and not just speeding - a priority.