March 22, 2008

Getting away with it

On Thursday morning, coming into Morillo de Tou, we came around a lefthand corner, blind because of the mountainside around which the road was bent, and saw a car coming towards us in our lane, still trying to overtake although he had run out of time and room. I barely had time to notice he was there, let alone to take evasive action. I probably couldn't have done anyway - the road was protected on my right by a barrier, there was a queue of traffic on the left and in front of me, the other driver's car. No room, no time: in fact I didn't even have time to notice, though R did, that he was on the wrong side of a no-overtaking line.

By the time his presence had registered he had found some room, perhaps provided by some other driver braking. He had dipped back into his lane and I was past him, almost in the same movement, almost sharing precisely the same short section of passing time. At least it felt like that - but perhaps the absence of time to react, the absence of time to properly recognise what was happening, the absence of time between those two events, conflated the two and brought them closer to an overlap than they genuinely were. He was gone, as quickly as my life might have been gone: no sooner were we in danger than we were out of it.

They say that sometimes, when accidents happen, you see it in slow motion, as if you had plenty of time but could do nothing to change what was going to happen. Perhaps when the danger passes, when the disaster exists only briefly, only in an unrealised embryo, there is no such slowing-down. No meeting of eyes between you and the other driver - just the briefest space between our observation of potential danger and our observation of its end. Then it's over, gone, there's nothing left. Not even time to get properly angry with them. Not even time to ask yourself what you would have done, had they found no space to aim for on their side of the road and kept on coming, straight towards you.

I drive slowly, by most people's standards, certainly by the standards of Easter weekend in Spain, wanting to give myself more time to see what's happening, wanting also to drive within the law. From conviction or from caution, or from fear - or from observation, that people overtake on the other side of blind corners, on the other side of the brow of the hill, and from calculation that I want an extra second, an extra half a second, if they do. I do not know, quite, what I would do with it, but I know that I might need it. I might have needed it on Thursday. Or he might have needed it, since he was the one caught in the wrong place with little time to get out of it.

I say caught, but he wasn't really caught. He put himself there. It was only when coming back, much later in the day, that I realised quite how irresponsible, how unspeakably stupid and greedy the other driver had been. Neither the corner nor the end of overtaking could have taken him unawares: there was a long, straight stretch of road before the turn and a road sign, hard to miss unless one wished not to see it, announcing the start of the no-overtaking zone. He knew what was happening, knew, not just at the moment he found himself in no-man's-land and couldn't yet get out of it, but for a long time before, when he planned to overtake, when he surveyed the road and the traffic ahead of him and asked himself if he wanted to do this now. He knew he might be gambling and decided it was worth the gamble.

It was when I realised that, when I realised that he'd had so much time to think about it first, that I really became angry with him: that was when it ceased to be mere stupidity and became, instead, sheer wickedness, the taking of risks with other people's lives, the taking of risks with the lives of strangers. Presumably, he thought he could get away with it. Presumably, he thought somebody else would always brake. Presumably, he thought it would be all right.


At March 24, 2008 10:59 pm, Anonymous memespring said...

good to see you blogging again. (that is all).

At March 24, 2008 11:42 pm, Blogger Sean said...

A horrid experience indeed.

On Saturday we were very nearly mashed into the central reservation barrier on Sheffield's Penistone Road; the driver of a lorry decided he was going to turn right and in order to do so needed to move from the middle-lane of the carriageway into the right, where we were. He certainly wasn't going to stop and must surely have known we were there but was intent on bullying us out of the way anyway.

At March 26, 2008 2:13 am, Blogger Philip said...

Presumably, he didn't think at all, however much time he had. An idiot doesn't start thinking just because he has time to think; at most, he just becomes a rather bored idiot.

At March 29, 2008 12:15 am, Anonymous WorldbyStorm said...

You didn't catch his face did you?

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