Road safety and driver behaviour are on Bernie's mind this week; the Road Safety Authority roadshow vehicle was in Mullingar recently (pictured).

The Irish version of ‘the great equaliser’

In America, that great nation of opportunity, where even a hustler can turn into a hero, owning a gun – or 20 of them – is regarded as its citizen’s most fundamental right. When everybody owns a gun, it gives no advantage to anybody – just levels the playing field and more people die. ‘An eye for an eye makes everybody blind!’

The Yanks refer to the gun as ‘the great equaliser’. In fact, there is a Smith and Wesson handgun with the official name of ‘The Equalizer’.

Thank God we have strict gun control in Ireland, and therefore no requirement for that particular ‘equaliser’. But do we harbour any other form of equaliser in our everyday lives? I’m afraid that we do; the motor vehicle in Ireland has become our equaliser. Just as lethal as an American gun, the car has become our modern equaliser. And like the gun in America, the car in Ireland is entitled to be owned by every citizen over the age of 17.

The fact that it is legal to own a gun or a car doesn’t mean that there are some owners from whom these weapons should be taken. Just as the most worthless human being can pull a trigger, so too can any idiot get behind the wheel of a car. The most timid, five-foot-nothing misfit becomes all powerful in a driver’s seat – because the car is our great equaliser.

The only reason for the ever-increasing slaughter on our roads is because more drivers are taking risks and acting more aggressively. Everyone I speak to has the same story: aggressive driving and road rage are on the increase. Some say that the stress caused by Covid is responsible for unbelievable acts of kamikaze driving. I think such behaviour was on the increase before Covid.

More and more, I am driving in a line of traffic; perhaps the line is moving 10km under the permitted speed. The narrow Westport road between Strokestown and Ballaghaderreen on a Friday afternoon springs to mind, as I travel it on a lot of Fridays. Every bit of straight stretch, and a yahoo (most often in a ‘D’ reg car) will pull out and accelerate until a flashing truck forces him back in line. Somebody in the line will brake hard to let him back in, rather than cause a crash. (Note I said ‘crash’, not ‘accident’.) Then another hero from behind sees how it works and pulls out and does the same thing.

When I worked underground for ‘International Nickel’ in Canada, there was always a safety slogan displayed on the headframe. It was changed every week, and you could be asked by a boss at any time to state the slogan of the day. One that I remember in particular said; ‘ACCIDENTS DON’T HAPPEN – THEY ARE CAUSED’.

It is now a minority of drivers who use the traffic indicator as a courtesy or statement of intent – especially on roundabouts. It has become an aggressive, threatening message that ‘I am coming in or out’. Another bit of intimidation is where the vehicle is driving up your backside to force you to the hard shoulder. At best, it is as clear as an undipped headlight that incivility is on the rise and an acceptable part of everyday road use.

All of us have an inflated notion of our own safety and security in our vehicle-bubbles. Modern cars are so quiet and comfortable to drive that we have a false sense of ‘it will always be the other fellow’. I am not a slow driver, and I have been lucky on a few occasion. That is dangerous complacency that I would say most of us are guilty on occasion. It is different from the reckless ‘FU’ individual behind the wheel of his ‘equaliser’.

Nobody can disagree that the problem exists. Like the use of the gun in America, it is mostly innocent people who die on our carnage-strewn roads. And like the gunman, the Irish equivalent will sometimes turn the weapon on himself.

So, if we all know the problem, does anybody have a solution? More traffic police are badly required, but you cannot police the problem, nor is it possible to have a garda car on every stretch of road.

What about drones? Surely if drones can take photos of any spot on the planet, and even drop precision bombs in conflicts, they can identify dangerous driving and help to prosecute the offenders.

One crumb of comfort for any Irish victim of the equaliser is that, unlike the American version, if he doesn’t nail you at the first attempt, he won’t have a gun in the glove compartment to finish the job!

Don’t Forget

Driving a car would be a much greater pleasure if motorists would use their heads as much as they use their horns.