I doubt that many of us would need to look past the drive into work this morning to place the last time we saw rudeness on the road. Everywhere you look cars run red lights, cyclists scrape past queuing cars and pedestrians just wander out into the road, oblivious to doom’s swift approach in the shape of a speeding bendy bus.
Most people’s reaction when asked if they ever do anything like this is to say we’re all guilty of it now and again. The thing is, there are so many cars on the road these days that if just a tiny percentage of road users decide they’re going to push their luck, it seems to the rest of us like bad manners are everywhere, and there’s nothing that upsets the British people more than rudeness.
Whether it’s someone simply not saying ‘excuse me’ before pushing past in the supermarket bread aisle, excessive noisy sniffling on the bus, or even just the general air of disinterest you get from more or less anyone working at a pound shop, we Brits hate bad manners. So why is it that when we’re out in the road, all that goes out of the window?
I have a theory, and to explain I’m going to have to delve into the depths of the human psyche (sort of). The idea of distance is a many-layered one, from the obvious physical meaning to various emotional ones. There’s professional distance from work colleagues, distance from an Aunt you haven’t seen in 15 years, and distance between you and a stranger who’s standing a couple of feet away.
Distance on the road, though, is a fluid thing. It changes according to the situation. Generally, when people are driving along with the doors locked and the windows wound up, they feel nice and safe, and that makes them a bit too confident. Whatever happens, that car, van or bus is their own getaway vehicle, ready to speed them from the scene of the crime, sometimes literally. It’s the same for cycles and motorbikes. What they lack in exterior protection they gain in manoeuvrability and speed.
Take away that sense of distance and the veneer of invulnerability disappears, making people act more respectfully. Once people can see each other’s eyes everything changes. How often do you see a convertible with the roof down cutting people up, or a renegade cyclist making any attempt to make eye contact? I’d bet not very often.
The recession has shown us that in times of minor hardship some people squabble like toddlers with toys, taking whatever they can get regardless of everyone else. We’re all being squeezed but while some tighten their belts, others try to take more than ever, which, frankly, is most un-British. On the other hand, during serious hardships people pull together. On that basis, I say the government should threaten to force everyone to use public transport unless they behave. If that doesn’t restore order, nothing will.
By Matt Kimberley