Should we take the law into our own hands?

Posted on September 21st, 2011 by James Luckhurst

It’s always frustrating to witness examples of poor, dangerous or even reckless driving on the part of other road users. But when it comes to doing something about it, we are often powerless. No one wants to live in conditions similar to those in East Germany before the fall of communism, where thousands and thousands of supposedly normal residents were actually informers for the dreaded Stasi, or secret police.

There are times when we CAN do something about someone else’s behaviour, and times when we probably cannot.

Last year, a man knocked at my door, selling frozen fish. I had bought from his organisation before, and was willing to do so again. I asked him in to sort out the payment, and immediately noticed he had bloodshot, watery eyes and he stank pretty badly of alcohol. I paid, stored my seafood and saw him back to his van, discreetly observing his registration number as I said farewell.

I called the police and was satisfied to see that, not 10 minutes later, a patrol car pulled up behind him (he was by now about 20 doors down the street). I can only assume that he blew a positive reading, because his van was abandoned there for the next three days. Goodness knows what the fish would have smelt like inside when it was eventually recovered.

My tip-off was anonymous, and nothing came back to me. But I have four children, and our road is full of families with young children, so even if I had had to ‘go public’ in providing information that led to his arrest, I hope I would have done.

The latest edition of Good Motoring includes a letter from a member worried about being ‘tailgated’ by trucks on the A34 on Oxfordshire. This has generated a healthy response from others who have had similar experiences, and have managed to do something without involving the police. George Dunn had this suggestion:

“During a journey up the M6 to Blackpool, I was persistently tailgated twice by commercial drivers. By persistent tailgating I am referring to a period of at least several minutes. On both occasions there was ample opportunity to overtake.

When both drivers did eventually overtake, presumably in search of their next victim, I noted both the registration number, and the name of the company concerned. Upon arrival I googled both companies, and after a bit of searching I managed to find the relevant email addresses. I sent a formal complaint to both companies, reminding them that dangerous driving is a criminal offence, and that a company is responsible for the behaviour of its employees on the public highway.

Within a few days I had apologetic replies from both firms, informing me that the drivers concerned had both been disciplined and warned about their future conduct.”

Additionally, David Greenwood provided some practical advice. “When driving for pleasure in some of the lovelier parts of Britain, I am, by choice, one of the slower drivers on the derestricted roads. Consequently I get my share of people driving close behind me. But I know that it is not because the driver behind wants me to drive faster. It is because he or she wants to drive faster than me and needs to pass to be able to do so.

The answer in each case is the same. When the opportunity presents itself and depending on the circumstances, I either pull over to the side or slow down and drive well over to the left to allow overtaking as easily and as soon as possible. And until such an opportunity presents itself I make sure that I drive carefully and defensively, ensuring that I do not put myself into the position of having to brake hard or suddenly.

It really is so simple almost all of the time and is just a case of driving with consideration. Too many slower drivers do not seem to appreciate that holding up one, two or often a queue of vehicles causes considerable annoyance and frustration. The result is all too frequently an ill-advised overtaking manoeuvre and sometimes an accident.
If the truck wants to pass, let the blighter past.”

In summary, there are literally thousands of careless or dangerous acts committed by drivers across the country – every minute of every day – and mostly by people who would never dream of pushing in front of you in a supermarket queue, or trying to force you off the stairs in a railway station. There’s something about being in a vehicle that brings out the worst in many people, simply perhaps because they think they will escape unpunished and that there will never be consequences for them to worry about. And 99 times out of 100, it’s best to let it go, and not to dwell on what could have happened (but did not).

For safety on the road, a final bit of advice (backed up by excellent information in GEM’s personal safety leaflet) is always, always to avoid confrontation. If you become the target of someone’s aggressive or dangerous actions, don’t get involved. If you feel your safety may be compromised, drive to a public or busy place and use your mobile (when stationary) to call the police.