Monday, 13 February 2012

Peril on the roads

Police were out in force the other day, watching people alight from trams and ignore the official crossing spots.  I was amazed by how unaware people were of their surroundings.  Even as the police called out the individuals who stepped off the tram stop onto the tracks in front of the tram, more people followed them to meet their fate of on the spot fines for jaywalking.  While the police were dealing with the people who had walked in front of the tram, others set off in the other direction to cross the road against the lights!

Now I can imagine some people would say that the police should be out there catching real crooks, rather than targeting law abiding city workers who are just trying to make their connection to get home.  I think that a blitz on this stuff is a good idea every now and then.  In between pedestrians plugged in to ipods and unaware of their surroundings and drivers sending texts, reading email or talking on their mobile phones, the two are bound to meet in unplanned and unpleasant circumstances.  Regularly.

The other day I was driving on the Tullamarine freeway and needed to move across into the lane on my right. The traffic was heavy so I tried to nudge across and ask permission from a particular car to be allowed into his  lane.  Good old fashioned eye contact wasn't possible.  When I looked across to communicate with the driver, his eyes were down on the mobile phone he had in his left hand as he sped along at about 100 km per hour!  I decided I didn't want to be anywhere near him on the road and changed lanes a few cars ahead of him.

I remember talking to a young woman I came across in a training program I was facilitating.  She was loudly talking to the others in the group about the fact that she was working at that particular place so she could earn money to pay off all her fines.  She was nineteen years old!  Since she was so forthcoming about it, I decided that I could ask her about how the fines came about.  She blithely told me that it was from speeding and using her mobile phone to text while she was driving.

What a great combination!  A nineteen year old behind the wheel of a high powered car, on her provisional license, concentrating on her mobile phone while she was driving faster than the speed limit.  How she arrived anywhere in one piece is a mystery.  I put it to her that she might feel in control and certain of what she was doing, but she could not control or predict the behaviour of any other driver on the road.  One driver could do something unexpected at the precise moment of inattention; her focus on her phone rather than the road could cost her her own life, or threaten someone else's.  She shrugged.

Knowing what I know about the driving behaviour of people in her age group (based on working with them) there is no way I would put myself at risk as a pedestrian!  I'm not wearing kevlar pants or a helmet.  My handbag and iphone won't protect me in a collision with a car, a tram or even a cyclist.

Occasionally I contemplate purchasing a push bike for local trips.  Then I witness a near impact and I put it to the back of my mind - it seems I would be literally risking my life to put myself on the road on a bicycle in a sea of inattentive drivers and distracted, cocooned pedestrians.  Walking across the road is dangerous enough!

I feel for Melbourne's tram drivers.  It must be nerve racking, trying to navigate this course of constantly moving obstacles when you are driving a large metal vehicle which is attached to rails and can not change direction.  Is it any wonder there are now signs inside the trams reminding passengers to "HANG ON" because the tram driver may need to stop suddenly.  Surely a couple of minutes waiting for the light  to change so the road can be crossed safely, is not going to mean dire consequences in most situations.  If it was, I suspect the pedestrian would be easily spotted as someone under stress and wouldn't be listening to an ipod.

So back to my original point, on the spot fines for jaywalkers give the opportunity to raise awareness about the rules and appropriate behaviours.  I overheard some of the conversations  being conducted by members of the police force.  It was great to hear them actually educating offenders.  There should be more of that!

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