When you go shopping, to the bank or post office, visit a restaurant or go to a movie, how do you approach waiting in a queue? 

Do you see a gap and pounce on it, because someone is not quite fast enough to inch forward or perhaps is still in the mindset of Covid-friendly spacing? You could quickly claim that area as yours, and too bad to those now behind you. 

This, in most cases, isn’t the reality. Humans are generally courteous creatures.

Consider ordering a drink at a bar. If the bartender goes to another person, they’ll usually point across to the customer who has been waiting longer. Often, a small nod of acknowledgement between you and the other customer takes place. Or would you really cut in line, especially in front of a big 6 foot 7 dude? 

People take a deep breath and work together. Everyone naturally queues to help the line move as quick possible.

Now let’s consider the road system. 

Across Australia’s major centres, it often feels as though courtesy is considered optional when driving. A driver’s focus is often about ‘me’ – my journey and how fast I can get from A to B. If there is a gap and I think it will help me along quicker – I grab it. 

The impacts of my decisions and actions on road safety, traffic flow or other road users come a distant second. 

A recent trip to the Netherlands illustrated some key differences in road user attitudes. 

Dutch road users happily give way. Trucks move freely between lanes when indicating and the space in front of them is left clear for braking. Cars move over to allow motorcycles to pass congestion. Vehicle merging just happens. When cars interact with cyclists or Dutch microcars (for those in wheelchairs), they just stop and give way or patiently wait. Vehicles keep right unless overtaking and it is the ‘slow lane’ for exactly that. [In Australia it would be keep left as we drive on the opposite side of the road.] 

The overall feeling could be described as an ‘us’ approach among the Dutch road users, not as ‘us vs. them’ or, perhaps more correctly, an ‘it’s all about “me” approach’. According to BITRE 2022, the Netherlands has a fatality rate of 3.50 per 100,000 population, whereas Australia’s is 4.26. 

There are some obvious differences between our countries (such as land mass and regional/remote areas), but looking at Australian road fatalities the majority are in major cities, inner and outer regional areas. We are not so different. Urban design is notably different and certainly plays a role with Netherlands often separating vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians but still being courteous when they do interact. 

Shifting how you drive daily can have huge flow-on benefits for everybody. Driving is a surrogate measure of job performance and job satisfaction. Research has shown a strong correlation between high job and life satisfaction and lower levels of crashes and near misses, fewer speeding infringements and less risk-taking behaviour on our roads.

So, consider some simple steps in your driving that will benefit you and all road users. 

  • Drive with patience and be courteous; you’ll find the journey and life easier. For fleets, take some wisdom from Mark Stephens at Uniting Care: a courteous driving fleet gets you 70% there with regards to road safety.  
  • If you see a truck, give it space. The gap in front is not meant to be filled but to provide enough stopping distance. Remember, if that truck is able to keep moving, traffic keeps moving; However, if you make a truck stop, it is then slow to get moving again because of its mass and size. 
  • When you plan your journey, include buffer time for the journey and allow for the x-factor
  • Make travel time your time and leave the emotions outside the vehicle.
  • Have your playlist or podcast ready to go to make your trip more enjoyable.
  • Do you need to make the journey? Could you meet online? Or could you cycle, walk or take public transport. 

How else could we all help improve our interactions on the road? 

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