Friday, July 17, 2009

Poor aul' commuters

From the Herald, Wednesday July 15 2009
By Susan Daly

The highest rate of penalty points are being awarded to the counties with some of the lowest road death rates. Now what's wrong with this picture?

Dublin's commuter counties -- ones like Kildare, Carlow, Laois and Meath -- have the worst points records in the country.

This implies two things. Either the unfortunate commuters of Leinster collectively drive like Jessica Tandy before Morgan Freeman took the wheel from her in Driving Miss Daisy.

Or, with hundreds of thousands forced on to the same worn routes every morning to get to work, catching offenders is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Even if the second instance is true, we can't be seen to complain.

If you're slapped with penalty points, you were doing something wrong. It's a fair cop, guv (The argument remains, of course, that scarce traffic garda resources are being deployed to stop prangs on the Naas dual-carriageway when they might be better served reining in young men careening around country bends to their deaths.

What the chart-topping points rates really reflect is the utter frustration with which commuters face their drive to work each day.

Unsynchronised traffic lights along a dual carriageway, jams, roadworks -- is it any wonder that a motorist might lose their reason and do something stupid and unsafe?

The most recent census figures revealed that one in six commuting motorists leave home before 7am to make it to their workplace in time. That's 285,000 tired and irritable automatons, some of whom, no doubt, drive with one eye shut to give half their face a lie-in.

The distance people live from work has doubled since 1991, to an average of 10 miles.

And I'll bet you a can of Red Bull that the median conceals the many who live not just a town away from the office, but an entire county -- sometimes two. These are folks who shave, go to work and come home to shave again.

This was the price of owning your own home during the boom: you couldn't expect your children to grow up with a Dublin accent. And now, locked in to negative equity with falling house prices, they most certainly can't trade up to move closer to the big smoke.

So they continue to pack themselves into their sardine cans every morning, hoping for the day helicopters become tax-deductible purchases. A survey of commuters a short time ago found that humans are an adaptable bunch -- we find crutches to distract us from the awful boredom and stress of long journeys to work.

Some people chew gum and eat sweeties, some meditate and pray, some admire the good-looking driver stopped next to them at the traffic lights.

Others get road rage, or indulge in what the boffins call "self-generated audio coping", ie, singing and talking to yourself. Talking to yourself? It isn't an overstatement to say that commuters have their sanity ground down, tailback by frigging tailback, every single day.

They take chances they might not normally take if they were simply pootling about on a leisurely weekend drive.

They speed up to try and catch the fickle rhythm of green lights on the Naas Road. They seriously consider undertaking that truck on the hard shoulder to escape the M50, otherwise known as the second circle of hell.

They try to surreptitiously use their mobile under the steering wheel to tell the creche they will be late picking up the children.

All of these actions rightly deserve penalty points -- and make motorists rich pickings for Garda statisticians.

But there is a difference between commuters making mistakes out of desperation, and those motorists who drink-drive or speed for thrills. There is nothing thrilling about trying to make it home in time to fry some chops for the kids before 9pm. Commuters are no angels -- but they don't deserve to be demonised either.

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