Driving a car is full of challenges and on this particular occasion Janine, who is in her sixties, was at the wheel. Her driving is typically calm and careful; she is certainly not a risk-taker. The driver in front suddenly applied his brakes, and in seconds Janine’s demeanour changed. She lowered her window, stared across at the other driver and shouted ‘you stupid b******’. The episode was soon over and we resumed our conversation.
With Janine there was never any likelihood of physical confrontation, no road rage, no tailgating, no hand or finger gesticulation. Nevertheless the event was a reminder that something odd happens to car drivers in traffic. The highway becomes their arena for sparring, and aggressive sparring at that. And when in this arena, the irrational takes over – what can possibly be gained by cursing or worse?
In time, these very drivers have to park. They, together with perhaps more balanced fellow drivers, seek out parking places and then a new set of behaviours begins. As a pavement user and committed pedestrian – we do not have a car in London – it is issues of bad parking rather than bad driving, to which I am particularly averse. By and large, most parking is fine. It is seeing or suffering the effects of thoughtless, selfish or unsociable parking that gets me.
I reckon there are four types of miscreant parking. Here I am not talking about ‘how’ drivers park, perhaps hitting the adjacent cars in the process, rather ‘where’ they park. The first ‘where’ type covers the behaviour of the invasive parker. Just recently while out walking, my wife and I had to step off the kerb or walk along the pavement in single file on four occasions, in order to avoid colliding with parked cars whose ends had spilled over the pavement from the owners’ front gardens. There were neither warning lights nor notes of apology. Instead, the drivers presented an obvious message stating that they didn’t care if they caused inconvenience either to ‘ordinary’ pedestrians or to wheelchair users or those with impaired vision.
Next there are the obstructive parkers. My wife had an early-morning clinic appointment and we only just got there on time. The driver of our hospital transport was delayed by twenty minutes as he tried in vain to get past a van parked across and thus blocking the entrance to our narrow road. The van was being loaded with rubbish and its quasi-delinquent driver was oblivious of the effects his parking might have on others.
My third category are the displacing parkers. Here the driver parks illegally in a reserved space, blocking legitimate access for others; classically this happens with disability bays. In a bay near us it would be a rare day in which we do not see at least one car parked there either with no parking permit displayed or one displayed that seems suspect.
With regard to suspect permits, when I see the driver get out and walk away without apparent difficulty I suspect some misdemeanour, and this is a common occurrence. In some UK shopping centres, around half of the permits displayed are either borrowed, forged or stolen. What’s more, in the UK the annual black-market sale of permits is around £46m.
But before accusing any one of wrongdoing, be careful. For a while a plumber working nearby would park in our disability bay and march off to work. His car had a permit but, being suspicious, I had decided to challenge him. As he arrived one morning I approached his car. It was a hot day and he was wearing shorts. When he opened the car door the shiny steel of his leg prosthesis became obvious. I was left feeling very awkward and offering a very embarrassed apology.
Finally there are cynical parkers. I was walking to the shops one early morning when, in the distance, I saw a man draw up his car in a bus lane, turn on his hazard lights, then take from the car boot two large warning triangles indicating a breakdown and place them in the road. I was preparing to ask him if he needed help until I realised that he had actually stopped to unload material from his car into a nearby sports shop. Such cynical behaviour deserved to be challenged but ultimately I said nothing. On looking at him I decided he was not the type of man who would take kindly to criticism. Soon he re-loaded his triangles and drove off.
As I see it, there is something very wrong with the behaviour of many of our nation’s drivers. While it will be difficult to alter their aggression when they are at the wheel, it might be possible to change their conduct when they park, at a time when they are on the threshold of re-entering the world of reason and of amicable co-habitation.
Perhaps it will be up to us pedestrians to be vigilant – even at the risk of being branded as nosey parkers (or worse).