Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan: Let the faster drivers pass

Courteous drivers mean less frustration. Photo / Northern Advocate
Courteous drivers mean less frustration. Photo / Northern Advocate

It took only three hours after my holiday for me to realise what's going wrong on our roads. We're jealous drivers.

I jumped off the plane at 6am last Saturday from a holiday overseas.

I won't say where I was because if I do you'll Google the road toll in that country and my argument will crumble in a jumble of terrible statistics.

But trust me. I think I'm on to something here. In my Mysterious Offshore Destination, the speed limit is 120km/h .

Some of the cars on that country's roads can handle that speed limit, some of the cars can reach that speed faster than you can read this sentence, but some of the cars can't get there without shaking off their wing mirrors.

Inevitably, I found myself zooming down a state highway at the top speed and closing in on a rust bucket shuddering along at 90km/h.

And then something remarkable happened.

The slower car in front pulled on to the shoulder to let me past. Then I copied what I'd seen other motorists in that country do. After I passed, I flicked my hazard lights to say thank you. The other driver flicked their headlights to acknowledge me.

And that's how I spent the rest of my time behind the wheel: flicking lights to other drivers to say either "thank you" or "you're welcome".

It's because I got used to courteous driving that I found getting into my car in Auckland so frustrating.

I had five hours to get from Auckland Airport to a funeral in Rotorua. My husband was a pallbearer. We had to be on time.

Five hours isn't enough. Five hours requires you to travel at the absolute top speed that you're allowed to.

That's what I would have done if I wasn't stuck at the back of a slow queue seven cars long.

This isn't a telling-off. I'm as bad as every other Kiwi driver, jealously holding our places on the road, determined to get to Matamata before the guy in the white Holden behind us for a reason unknown to ourselves and the country's best psychologists.

Maybe other drivers have waited for that passing lane, hurrahed at the chance to get past me, and then slammed the steering wheel in frustration as I suddenly started speeding up on the inside.

The problem with that strange road hogging is that if we don't give the driver behind us the chance to drive as fast as they're legally allowed, they'll do what I did on that trip to Rotorua.

They'll overtake when they probably shouldn't.

I don't have a hairy story to tell you about my driving that day. There were no near misses, but there were a few times when I felt a little uncomfortable passing on our narrow, winding roads.

And then I felt tempted to make up the lost time by sneaking my speedo just a little higher.

When you look at the stats, crashes where someone has died because one car was overtaking only account for about 10 per cent of speed-related crashes.

So, based purely on numbers, being polite won't save a huge number of lives. It won't do much to bring our disappointingly high road toll down.

But it will make driving a whole lot less frustrating when the pressure's on. For the record, I haven't received any speeding tickets yet.

And I got my husband there with seven minutes to spare.

- Herald on Sunday

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Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan is a thirty-something trying very hard to avoid growing up. So far it’s working, except for the husband, the mortgage and the proper job. She lives between Auckland and Wellington. When she’s not writing for the Herald on Sunday, she co-hosts TV3’s 7pm current affairs programme Story.

Read more by Heather du Plessis-Allan

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