Change Education

Roads won’t fix our traffic problem – drivers will

Have you ever been frustrated by the number of cars on the road? Have you arrived at work in the morning already in a bad mood because of some stupid driver on the way? Well, you’re not the only one, you’re one of millions of drivers worldwide that are struggling with traffic, frustration and stress in rush hours. Most governments try to fix it by building more and better roads. No government in the world I have seen looked into drivers themselves.

Let me start with 5 most common sins that New Zealand drivers do and can do better in order to reduce the traffic.

1. Using lights

New Zealand in Te Reo is called Aotearoa which means long white cloud. You don’t have to add more to figure out that our driving conditions on this beautiful island are often difficult. Fog, rain, showers, strong sun, those are not exceptions, those are rules of our weather. The majority of the drivers use lights only to see better at night. When the conditions worsen, however, barely anyone uses lights. I mean they see well, why would they waste electricity? The thing is that not being able to see properly the car in front of you and behind you causes unnecessary danger but most importantly inability to correctly establish the distance between you and those vehicles. If you’re unable to see your neighbours on the road properly, often you’ll have to rapidly slow down because you didn’t see someone without the lights and suddenly they’re there. You slow down, the person behind you slows down even more, the 5th car stops. A stopped car on the road is the beginning of the traffic.

2. Using indicators

When I came to New Zealand someone told me this common joke that “in order to pass the driver licence you need to be able to change the lane on a motorway without an indicator while talking on the phone and eating a sandwich in the same time”. It might sound funny but it’s true. I would estimate that half of the drivers in New Zealand don’t or rarely use indicators. Here’s how you create traffic. If we’re on T section and I am trying to join the main road’s traffic while you’re going on the main road, if you won’t indicate that you turn into my road I won’t have an opportunity to join the traffic. I will still have to wait until another opportunity happens. It might pass another 30s or might be 2 minutes because someone else did the same thing. However, there are also 4 cars behind me looking at exactly the same experience. One of them blocks someone’s driveway, that person can’t get to their driveway, there are cars behind that person now waiting and suddenly everyone stops because we broke the free flow.

3. Keep left until passing

This is actually ridiculous. The majority of Western countries have “keep driving on a slow lane unless you’re overtaking” rule as a road code. If you don’t abide, you get fined. In New Zealand, you will see Police cars cruising on a fast lane while the other 2 lanes are empty. Happens all the time. Keep left works in New Zealand only on highways where it’s clearly written on the sign that you have to keep left and even then sometimes it doesn’t work. This is probably the biggest traffic generator in Auckland despite a lot of people don’t realise. If you don’t keep left and there’s another car next to you on the left, there’s no way that anyone can actually overtake anyone. If there are cars quicker than you you are actually causing moving congestion. If you’re causing a moving congestion a tiny slow down of the traffic will eventually create real stopped congestion not far behind you. But that’s not the only sin. Not letting faster drivers go on the fast lane is as bad as driving on the fast lane with an empty slow lane.

If you’re on 2 lane motorway and going 90kmph and overtaking someone’s going 85kmph assuming that you need roughly 100m distance relative to the other driver to overtake them, you will take about 1 minute and 10s to go back to the left lane. If there’s a car behind you going 95kmph and you won’t let him go, you slow him down by roughly 1 minute too. If there’s a car behind him that goes 100kmph you slow him down by 2 min. Now the person slowed by 2 mins affects only himself but everyone who is behind him too. So if you won’t keep left until you’re not interrupting other driver’s, you actually slow down everyone. Which leads us to the next point, I gained a few seconds I don’t care about the consequences.

4. Lack of courtesy

I read something once about the psychology of cars. It went something like that “We’re closed in this metal tin like in a small apartment. We’re safe there and we don’t mind other people in their own apartments. We are happy in our own little space and other people are happy in theirs. We have nothing to do with each other and we don’t see each other”. The issue is that you all live in one building that is called a road. You share one staircase and one elevator and if anything goes wrong you all suffer.

Most importantly not all of you are “professional racing drivers” and experienced navigators. There are other people on the road who are less confident, less experienced and sometimes just worse drivers. Letting them go when they struggle doesn’t hurt. Letting someone go when they can’t get out of the street might make their day, might unblock the traffic behind them and might not sound like a big change but I guarantee it will make you feel better so sometimes think about it.

5. Lack of road code knowledge and paying attention

This is so common that sometimes I wonder how people get their driver licence. My favourite one is when 2 drivers wait for each other forever because they don’t know who’s got the right of way. There’s such intersection next to my house and it happens all the time.

Another intersection next to my house, there is a 2 lanes road joining a 3 lanes road and every 2nd car doesn’t know what to do and doesn’t follow the lines on the road. Not watching signs, not understanding how a roundabout works, these are all daily struggles that a lot of drivers don’t care about.

But what the real problem is? The real problem is me. And you. Why? Because we don’t know how to drive properly. You see I am a young person in mid-30s and I passed my licence… 20 years ago. Since then I haven’t opened the road code or learned anything new about driving other than practice. Every 10 years I need to change my licence because it expires but I don’t have to pass the theory test or practice test. When my wife was passing her exam she failed once on something I didn’t even know is an issue.

This is a huge problem, people in their 60s or 70s often never sat their driving test. Back then the driving licence was part of the car purchase process. You got the car, here’s a licence that comes with it. It was more like today’s registration. And those people still drive. And so will I in 40 years when who knows, maybe the cars will fly. There really should be some limitation of the driving licencing because it is just impossible to know all the changes in the law and the road code without actually studying them. So while I have to change my licence every 10 years, force me to sit the exam. Expensive? Use the technology, install a camera in my car for a day and watch the video on 2x speed. Use GPS to see my speed, use AI to see my good/bad patterns. There’s only a limited space in our cities for building new roads but I strongly believe the traffic could be eased down by just training the drivers regularly and compulsory. And as much as this decision would be very unpopular I hope that one day we’ll have a politician with real courage to change something and put something new in a place that will make real changes rather than cosmetic improvements.

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