On holiday in south east France I chanced upon this story in the local daily newspaper, Le Dauphiné Libéré. The 76 year old motorist had driven over the (obvious) footway into the well signed exit stairway from the train station at Romans, apparently thinking that this was the access to a car park.
The report says :
“ L’automobiliste…victime d’une grosse frayeur et d’un malaise, été transporté à l’hôpital… Heureusement, et malgré l’heure de pointe, personne ne se trouvait sur sa route à ce moment-là ”
I translate this as: “The motorist …fainting and in great fear, was taken to hospital…”, but the literal translation is of him as a “victim (my emphasis) of great fear and a faint (or fainting
episode)”. The reaction of onlookers afterwards is described as with “le regard médusé et amusé” – a “dumbfounded and amused look”.
As regular readers know, I have a habit of engaging in textual analysis to explore features of contemporary car culture and “road safety” ideology. Let’s proceed, allowing for the vagaries of my translation from the French:
“Heureusement, et malgré l’heure de pointe, personne ne se trouvait sur sa route à ce moment- là » « Fortunately, and despite being in the rush hour, nobody was in its way (my emphasis) at that time.”.
Forgive me for not being “amused”.
Although I have made the emphases above, the words used do seem to have importance for understanding car culture and its “road safety” component. Although this is a somewhat extreme case, it is something which should be seen as just that – an extreme case of what happens regularly and frequently on roads throughout the world.
Highway and vehicle “road safety” engineering has been based for some decades on accommodating errant motorist behaviour. In effect, the inability or incompetence of motorists has been connived and colluded with, with the creation of as forgiving a highway and vehicle environment as possible. “Forgiving”, that is, of rule and law breaking. The relentless idiot-proofing of the highway (crash barriers, felling road side trees, anti-skid patch installation etc.) and vehicle (seat belts, air bags, roll bars, anti-lock brakes etc.) has contributed to continuing idiocy.
This is not so much looking at transport issues through the wind screen rather than the eyes of pedestrians and cyclists, but looking through the windscreen of the careless, reckless, criminally negligent or just downright dangerous driver.
So, to take this case: the driver is in many ways, seen as just another victim – rather than perpetrator of criminal homicidal behaviour. And when we consider the path of the vehicle, it is not too fanciful to see that when it is referred to as “its way”, it is just another example of how “the way” of the motorist is defined as whatever the driver embarks on – whether legally or not.
Indeed, we might think that the relentless accommodation of driver incompetence is a principal reason for the – apparently demented – driver driving over a footway and through a well signed station exit. After all, this is only an extreme version of living down to the expectations of the rule and law breaking driver.