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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Has the quake made us safer drivers?

Personal note: I have thought the same thing for a while; for one thing, it's impossible to drive the speed limit!  In 50kph zones you are doing good to get to 40kph over small stretches, and otherwise are down around crawl-speed or tops 30kph.  People are also very good about letting others into lines, giving way, etc.  (Just had a bit of a shake while I was writing that!)  Traffic has been nightmarish since the quake, with long lines everywhere, and travel times at least doubled, sometimes tripled or worse. 

Has the quake made us safer drivers?

Last updated 07:43 28/02/2011
There are still traffic lights that don't work around Christchurch, and for 36 hours last week theLights T-intersection where Cranford Street meets The Main North Road managed without them.

This in contrast to the walk home on Tuesday on which I was almost subsumed several times by truck owners mimicking power boats in the city's liquefaction.

Without a pointsman to help things along - as there were at several crossroads on my long muddy trudge home on quake day - this most dangerous of intersections suffered not a single bingle or nudge.

There were no telltale glitters of broken headlight or indicator glass for the whole day and a half that power was out, whereas normally the anger of daily snarls and the cut and thrust of traffic at least has a biff or two during the day.

Often you'll see two drivers at the side of the road, one scratching his or her head and the other writing something on a piece of paper, using the roof or bonnet of his car as a desk.

My father-in-law lives within eyesight of the Cranford/Main North confluence and has seen at least three fatals there. He remarked that he'd never seen such well-behaved traffic before.

And it's still like that now. Whether it's the extra police presence, or that drivers feel that by merely being alive they've used up their normal allocation of luck this week and there's no point in pushing things, I don't know, but long may it continue.

Following distances seem to be sensible. People are indicating, and I even saw the driver of a lowered and noisy Evo 6 perform the international sign language for, "No, after you" to let a Colt-driving blue-rinser who could have been his great grandmother through the snarl on quake day. She smiled and waved back.

It appears that just as the quake has us starting to talk to people we previously wouldn't have even looked at, drivers are communicating with each other. They smile, they wave you in and don't appear to be in that much of a hurry.

It's not as if quake day was a quiet one on the road. At the Cranford/Main North stop, the filter and straight-through lanes were full, and yet things flowed with commendable precision and regularity even without the help of red, yellow and green traffic lights.

The behaviour of the traffic reminded me of my own behaviour 40-odd years ago in the weeks after I'd come a cropper on - or rather off - my motorcycle.

Suddenly awakened to my own mortality, I rode and drove with exquisite precision for a very long time, keeping assiduously close to the left side of the road, soft-shifting and never hurrying off the mark, and following with plenty of reaction time factored in at dead-on the speed limit, or even slower should conditions and visibility suggest it.

Maybe that's it. Having been close to the non-democratic hand of God on Tuesday - or whatever other force we may believe in  - we're giving ourselves, and others into the bargain more of a chance to live a full version of the life we've just been given a second chance at.

They don't appear to be willing to waste it.

And remember Cantabrians: Among the trees, a city grows...

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