The incident that inspired the following 1 000-odd words happened two weeks ago on my way to Kimberley via the N12. My drive was mostly at night and most of that stretch was single lanes for both ways.
Now in Johannesburg, we’re used to drivers flashing lights at each other. It’s common practice - albeit not a very polite one, according to most people - and perfectly legal. It’s also enraging though, but like most things we live with in South Africa, it’s best to accept what you cannot change.
Leaving the confines of Johannesburg, I was looking forward to driving in the night-time serenity of a quiet open stretch of road.
After passing through Wolmaranstad, I got my wish. There was only a truck here and there to overtake and the rest was smooth, happy, calm, zen-like sailing. Until it happened.
While coasting somewhere between Bloemhof and Christiana, a white Hyundai i20 (yes, from Gauteng) with the mother of all boot spoilers pasted on the back, stormed at me from behind and flashed its brights to the point where I was seeing spots. I decided to move into the yellow lane (driving in which is illegal at night) and it passed.
I was upset at this sudden interruption of my ‘moment’ and then absolutely baffled and gobsmacked, at first because there wasn’t any oncoming traffic, which was plain for everyone to see as we were on a long piece of tar as flat as only the North West can offer.
After a while trying to figure out this turn of events and expanding my reasoning to a bigger picture, I arrived at a short and very simple answer: Napoleon Complex (or Short Man Syndrome, as it’s more commonly known).
I say this with no disrespect to the i20; it’s a fantastic little car that deserves all its success. But are you intimidated by one sitting on your tail while driving on the N1? No, you aren’t.
Clearly the owner of this car was painfully aware of this fact and reckoned that the poor little drivers in the Free State and Northern Cape will show him the respect a Gauntenger in an angry looking i20 deserves; kind of like a second- or third-rank bully at school who can only thump down his authority on the smallest and weakest of boys. He obviously saw me in my CitiGolf with its FS plates doing only 120km/h and reckoned that this was going to be like shooting fish in a barrel.
This brings me to my actual point, but first a confession: I am one those irritating beings that drive in the far-right lane, which is (supposedly) exclusively to be used for overtaking (I had this confirmed by an expert after we experienced some confusion among readers a few months ago). I do take solace in the fact that I’m not the only such criminal and that I don’t drive slower than the speed limit, but it’s still no excuse.
As I said, I’m not intimidated by an i20 - a car that’s entry-level model has a curb weight of all of 970kg - that wants to overtake me in the far outer lane. But if, say, an Audi Q7 would storm at me like a bat out of hell, I’m out of its way in a super jiffy.
My question is simply this, though: why?
A Q7 can speed up to your tail at 140km/h. Guess what? An i20 can do that too, yet you won’t be showing it a 100th of the respect that you would show the big barges.
Am I so conditioned that anything bigger than me can do me damage and I must thus flee? I like to think that it is a reflex in human-interaction situations though.
If you accidently tick off some drunk guy that’s twice your size in a bar and he starts preparing his fists and forehead for battle, chances are you’ll apologise profusely or run for your life. Why? Because judging by his sheer size, you know you’ll come off second best. Badly.
That instantaneous flight reaction may explain why I will react quicker to a big car’s demands. But these barges are not human bullies. So, if you really think about it: is that Q7 actually going to drive right over you and simply carry on its journey? No. Barring an accident, there really is no difference between the damage an i20 and Q7 can cause you.
Another reason may be that old Victorian tradition of classism. The term itself is not a word we think of frequently nowadays, yet we do experience - or fall victim to it, if we’re going to be dramatic - quite often. Obviously it’s something that bothers some people more than others, but it happens to all of us nonetheless. So, let’s get back on the highway.
I might not be intimidated by the size of that SUV, but at the fact that because that driver can afford that shiny Q7, he must be better than me and thus he deserves my immediate respect. Is that man a capitalist, classist pig? If I say yes, then I do feel inferior because he is richer than I am.
I find the psychology of why people drive the way they do (as well as how road users perceive others their driving habits) fascinating. Are bad drivers necessarily bad people too? Do good drivers form the pillars of our society?
If you have any ideas, thoughts or musings on our subconcious reasonings on the road, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org