Drivers can lose concentration easily by using mobile phones while driving. Picture: AAP/Julian Andrews
Drivers can lose concentration easily by using mobile phones while driving. Picture: AAP/Julian Andrews

‘A split-second decision ended her life’

We lose our identity in traffic and often our minds and manners too.

Door shut, seatbelt on, key in ignition and the message to everyone outside of our glass and steel bubble that they can go to hell.

Our vehicle becomes us. If people get too close, we feel threatened.

If we bumped into someone in a room or a shop, we'd probably apologise and move on.

But behind the wheel, even a near miss is incendiary.

So as we approach Christmas in our cars, I'm asking you to consider the road toll ahead of any shopping stress or hangovers.

Sure, it stands today at 340 lives lost across the state this year according to Transport for NSW's Centre for Road Safety.

So far in 2018 the NSW road toll is less than the figure of 362 fatalities for this time last year.

But you and I both know that is 340 too many. One road death is too many.

Speeding, fatigue and drink driving continue to be the major factors causing fatal crashes.

But there's also anger which can be our default position in everything these days.

I know as you read this that you want everyone to drive safely this Christmas.

Speeding, fatigue and drink driving continue to be the major factors causing fatal crashes. Picture: Steve Tyson
Speeding, fatigue and drink driving continue to be the major factors causing fatal crashes. Picture: Steve Tyson

But that requires conscious motoring rather than buckling up and tuning out, only to overreact when stirred from our driving daydream.

Anonymity makes us aggressive - keyboard warriors and online trolls demonstrate this daily.

And all that fury and self-righteousness on the increase, and chipping away at our traditionally easygoing nature, is careering us towards what is meant to be a guaranteed time of peace and love.

Holiday driving and holiday stress are now inseparable. December in particular is super busy.

Be honest. Did you make a snap judgment this morning about a driver based on the make of his or her car?

The "arrogant jerk" that drives a flash two door, the mother in the top of range 4WD who pulls out and suddenly cuts you off.

Hmm. Perhaps I was in her blind spot, says no driver ever.

Psychologists refer to this as fundamental attribution error - conflating mistakes or offences with what is perceived to be the driver's personality, ability or even the make and model of their vehicle.

White van man anyone? Or cyclist perhaps?

What about that driver in the queue in front of you who lingered those few extra seconds at the green filter light, blocking you at the intersection for a third time.

Infuriating, isn't it, especially when he or she was studying their lap and the inevitable phone, instead of being focused on driving.

Worse still, as we cruise around wrapped in our personal armour but fly off the handle at any slight, real or imagined, we still consider ourselves to be good drivers.

In traffic we can lose sight of manners, and behave badly towards other drivers. Picture: iStock
In traffic we can lose sight of manners, and behave badly towards other drivers. Picture: iStock

In his book Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do, author Tom Vanderbilt writes that "we get visibly mad to an audience of no one, engaging in a kind of theatrical storytelling inside our cars in which we are the wronged victims."

It makes sense especially when considering road rage, according to Monash University, which said surveys show 80 per cent of us think that behaviour is on the rise. Police don't keep specific stats on road rage.

If slighted by a driver, we then find "new meaning for the drama", Vanderbilt says.

"We will try to find out something after the fact about the driver who wronged us," and didn't have to face our fury, perhaps like speeding up to get a look at them and to make sure they see us purple-faced with fury.

True, once we've learned how to drive it soon becomes an automatic task to the extent that we think we can predict the actions of other drivers.

But with people still dying on NSW roads, how can we take comfort from that assumption?

Many drivers seemed unable to bear being "stuck" behind us especially when we are travelling at the speed limit and driving safely.

There's also the issue of using your phone in hands-free mode. Surely the conversation itself is the distraction more so that the act of holding a phone?

Attention is deliberately diverted by a driver who chooses to use a phone, even though this increases the chance of an accident, rather than attention being suddenly drawn away by a siren or flashing lights.

Motorist driving through the Eastern Distributor toll point at Woolloomooloo. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Motorist driving through the Eastern Distributor toll point at Woolloomooloo. Picture: Jonathan Ng

This disregard brews the inevitable tail gating and road rage.

And wherever you drive in Sydney, chances are you will pass at least one memorial on the side of the road. It might be a cross, or a football jersey, or a shrine to a loved one lost to a MVA - something so common it sadly has an acronym all its own. Motor vehicle accident.

You will be lucky if you see just one of these memorials that represent a life or in some cases more than one, taken.

Regardless of the whys and the wherefores and whose fault was it, nobody deserves to end their day in the twisted wreckage of a car.

Some people die instantly on impact while others suffer terribly, waiting for rescuers to cut them from the mangled metal that was once their ticket to freedom.

One of my friend's oldest pals lost her niece in 2013 to a car crash. She was talking on her phone when she lost control of her car on a corner.

Her car crossed to the other side of the road, rolled and smashed into a tree. She was only 26 years old - a treasured daughter, sister, niece, granddaughter and friend.

I pass by the scene of the crash every day, on my way to work and on my way home. I think of young woman every day when I look at her memorial, lovingly tended by her friends and family to this day.

Birthdays and anniversaries mean misery, the arrival of more flowers and decorations that serve as a constant reminder - this beautiful young woman had the world at her feet.

She lost that in a split-second decision to answer her phone. One moment of distraction, a lifetime of devastation.

So make road safety a priority this Christmas. It's not just a slogan - all our lives depend on it.

@whatlouthinks



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