Opinion piece: seven sins Melbourne road users will punish you for

I had my first opinion piece published in the Age today. You can read it online at Fairfax or right here.

The seven (unofficial) rules of the road

A recent, three-month stint in Vietnam has made me extra sensitive to road manners. Although the traffic there looks crazy – a writhing, unfathomable mess of motorcycles, cars, pedestrians, bicycles and water buffalos – we saw zero road rage. Instead, users applied the “yield and forgive” maxim and traffic flowed like a river.

As a family with young children we learnt to step out into rolling tsunamis of traffic, hand-in-hand, traversing the ridiculously wide streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, emboldened by an increasing confidence and trust in this organic “system”. On country roads our knuckles clenched white as drivers took seemingly impossible overtaking chances; car horns were applied liberally but only once in anger.

Back in Melbourne I unwittingly started driving a bit Vietnamese. This was a mistake. I’d edge out a little too confidently and immediately receive The Horn Of Reckoning. I’d brake to avoid an animal on the road and cop The Head-Shake Of Utter Loathing. Once I drove a beat too slowly and was dealt that prince of punishments: The Long, Rude Middle Finger With Swearing.

It leads me to wonder whether we have chosen the right path. We’ve invested more than money in our system of strict traffic laws and stop-go, super-prescriptive road infrastructure. We’ve invested our faith in it – and perhaps even our identity. When someone breaks the rules or behaves in a way outside the written and unwritten protocols on our roads they are admonished with frightening severity. Where does all this anger come from?

Anyway, in an effort to protect myself and remind other culture-shocked road users on how to properly behave on Melbourne’s mean streets, here is my comprehensive list of diving sins.

1. Daring to indicate and then merge into another lane. Drivers speed-up if they see anyone trying to enter their lane. Of course, you’ll be punished if you decide to just assertively push in, too.

2. Turning right at an intersection well after the light has turned red. Yes, it’s illegal but we’ve all done it. When traffic lights can’t cope with demand we squeeze one more car through. Oncoming traffic is never impressed.

3. Travelling at the speed limit in the right-hand lane. Keep left unless overtaking is the rule but drivers who conduct epic 0.2km/h cruise control takeovers are not going to make any friends.

4. Squandering a green arrow because you were daydreaming. I’m not talking about checking your social media feed (that’s illegal) but miss a beat when the green arrow comes and you’ll incur a horn-blowing chorus wrath like no other.

5. Attempting to reverse parallel-park on a busy street. Polite drivers halt and allow the parker to do their business. Melbourne drivers weave around you and make it impossible.

6 Braking suddenly on a freeway to avoid hitting something. Granted, the driver behind you hasn’t seen the dirty big crow that waddled out in front of you. But it doesn’t stop him from gesticulating like you’re an idiot.

7. Daring to drive five kilometres below the speed limit. Driving at very slow speeds on fast-moving roads is an offence. But in reality, moving at anything less than a clip makes Melbourne drivers fume with pent-up, repressed aggression.

So, next time you are on the road about to horn-shame an errant road user for being slow-off-the-mark or too trusting with their merge, consider applying some Vietnamese wisdom and yield and forgive, instead.

This article was first published in The Age on 10 November, 2016.