Monsters in cars

29 March 2022

Every morning on my walk in to work, I cross twice at a major intersection. I always wait for the green pedestrian light before doing so. Even if one steps off the footpath the second the green light appears and walks fast, which I always do, the red light will start flashing when one is about half-way across. This is to warn others not to start crossing because the traffic lights are about to change. This morning as I was getting towards the footpath on the other side of the road, a woman turning left started accelerating towards me, her face contorted as she shouted “Get out of the way, the light is red!” The fact that the pedestrian light was still flashing and not a solid red seems not to have registered with her. As far as she was concerned, I was in her way and had held her up for two seconds at the most. I, as a pedestrian with right of way, was flabbergasted.

As I continued on my way, I reflected on the many occasions I’ve seen people reacting irrationally while driving their cars. The young man in the clapped-out yet superficially souped-up car who tailgates you despite there being nowhere to pass and a long line of oncoming traffic. The glamorous woman wearing dark glasses who insinuates her huge SUV into the left-hand lane so that she can whip past you when the light changes to green, only for you to draw up behind her at the next red light. The teenager holding their phone in one hand and steering with the other – I stopped abruptly at a pedestrian crossing while that particular driver didn’t register that I had right of way because he was so engrossed in his phone. He probably wouldn’t have noticed me till he’d knocked me down.

If you met these people in other circumstances would they still ignore your rights, treat you with contempt and shout at you? My guess is that they probably wouldn’t. Something about the psychology of being behind the wheel of a vehicle changes people’s behaviour. There is such a thing as traffic psychology, which points to factors such as not realising we are being aggressive or not caring when we are, making errors when judging relative speed, near misses being met with instant anger and other drivers and pedestrians being dehumanised, those near misses almost always being attributed to other drivers because most drivers (80-90%) believe they are highly skilled.

Perhaps the best way to overcome these hazards is to remember that other drivers and pedestrians are people who deserve respect, kindness and consideration. This even applies to the angry woman who I encountered this morning – I hope her day is going well.