My own driving peeves

I’m sure most of you reading this has read Saraji’s driving peeves on her blog - and yesterday on my first driving trip up town for a while I was reminded of a few of mine. The trip yesterday started in Croydon, took in Dulwich, Peckham, Lewisham, Greenwich, Hackney, the King’s Cross area and Battersea. And it was one of those nasty Iveco trucks which I hate, complete with the stiff clutch which hurts the left knee. The cargo, at least, was tiles and tile-related gear, which is something which at least I have no objections to delivering.

I’ve been driving for a living since early 2000, which is when I finally gave up on getting office work despite my decent skills (including more than 70 words-per-minute typing rate and good computer skills). Initially it was mostly vans and cars, and gradually I ended up doing mostly 7.5-tonne trucks. My first 7.5-tonne experience was completely unexpected - I was told to go to a builder’s yard near Cheam, Surrey, and worked there through an agency for two days, on the second of which I had to drive the wagon - an old Leyland Roadrunner - to Southampton. The thing couldn’t go faster than about 60mph and that was only when going down a hill, so normally the limit was about 50mph. So I took an excuse to go the “scenic route” which was, in this case, the most direct route.

As a driver I prefer to work alone - I hate being driven around and I don’t particularly like taking mates out. Mates often don’t wear their seat belts even when they are there (some trucks don’t have them), and three years ago a truck I was driving was hit head-on by a Jeep Cherokee, and the mate hit the windscreen and had concussion. Of course, it could be a lot worse. Being a mate, of course, you are in the driver’s “care”, and I’ve been in cars with people doing 60mph in built up areas or much too fast along country lanes in Kent. There was one place I was working where the driver pulled over to roll himself a joint while driving a 16-tonne truck. Another time I was working for a fruit and vegetable company on a run out to Swindon to deliver to various hotels and schools, and I was told not to drive at less than 70mph (the speed limit). His other driver, of course, did much more than this (he is Portuguese, and I suppose a British court can’t revoke a Portuguese licence). This is one reason why I had such objection to the radio presenter haranguing the local MP over the headmaster who didn’t check Ian Huntley’s references - the fact is that people take huge risks every day, and we only hear about them when they lead to disaster. (Cab drivers can be just as bad, and when I was at school in the late 1980s this definitely included those who drove children around for the local authorities.)

My number one pet hate is people who drive when they don’t need to. The fact is that London has a very good public transport system which is cheap (by London living standards) and which is improving. There is really nothing more frustrating than trying to get back home after a long day on the road and having to sit behind people who quite simply don’t need to be on the road. On the other hand, transport links out to the countryside, as I think I said before, are abysmal. Most of the bus routes have been abolished (like the 727 express route from Kingston to Redhill and then Gatwick airport) or cut in half (like the 406 slow bus on the same route, which has been cut in half at Epsom). I used to do a lot of driving out of places around Crawley, and when I could no longer afford my car insurance, I had to stop those jobs, because there is simply no bus. And I don’t see how a half-hourly bus from Kingston down to Redhill and Crawley can’t be profitable.

Then there are the impatient drivers. Yesterday, I turned down the Goodsway near King’s Cross and St. Pancras station (two major stations right next to each other, the latter being upgraded for the rail link to France). There was a jam at the bottom, so I turned around and headed back towards York Way, to the sound of horns blaring and a bit of four-letter abuse as well from people trying to force their way behind my back. If you stop to ask for directions because the signs are inadequate (as they are in a large tract near Lewisham, where you can’t find a sign for Lewisham even though you’re right nearby), or if you stall and miss a green signal, people hoot. People might assume you haven’t realised the lights have changed, but it gives the impression that they are being impatient.

I can’t give a list of places I hate driving, because some times the roads are clear and sometimes they’re not, it just depends on the traffic. South of the river Thames, the places to avoid are Brixton, Streatham, Wandsworth and Putney, and the M25 in west Surrey (they are currently building a slip road for the fifth terminal at Heathrow, and there’s a 40mph speed limit along an eight-lane motorway, but it’s always busy there anyway because of the large number of junctions along a relatively short stretch through a well-populated area). There’s also the M25 around the Dartford river crossing and the A3 around the “Devil’s Punch Bowl” (a two-lane stretch with traffic lights in the middle of a mostly four lane road) during the rush hour. The M1 is also often a nightmare.

I take my bike and the bus far more often than I drive myself (in fact, I have driven far more trucks and vans than cars since my car came off the road). Bus services have improved in the last few years and are extending beyond the main roads, and small and short buses rather than the old coach-length ones. A lot of bus drivers drive way too fast, and they accelerate and brake too sharply, and they take bends too fast as well. I have even on one occasion been expected to get on a moving bus, and on another there were three buses on the same route, and I was told by one bus to get on another, and in the end I missed all three. Cycle routes have improved although they’re still pretty bad - in some places they are just a broken line down the side of the road, which people can park on, and in others, they go down routes where cyclists have to get off (the only road users who have to do this!) - it seems some people are more concerned about the minor injuries cyclists can cause pedestrians than about the life-threatening ones drivers can cause cyclists by, for example, not signalling or looking before they turn left. We have recently started hearing much talk of “lycra louts” in the media, but the fact is that for the most part these people cycling illegally on the pavement do no worse than frighten or inconvenience people. I’ve never heard of someone being killed after being struck by a cyclist. Bad drivers kill regularly.

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