Saturday, 11 March 2017


Perhaps some dash camera drivers are mad and dangerous too

A new craze has hit almost every town in the world. Drivers are racing to their nearest electronics store to purchase a car digital video recorder, otherwise commonly known as a dash camera, and New Zealand is no exception.
Many dash cam buyers are professional drivers who see themselves as threatened by over zealous law enforcement officers, or by truck and bus-hating car drivers. But car drivers and cyclists are also joining the queues at Supercheap Auto shops to line up for their dash cam fixes. Most dash cam buyers, whether professional or amateur, want bad drivers exposed and punished for their bad driving. Fair enough. But how good, or bad, is their own driving?
The dash camera is a two-edged sword. It can certainly expose drivers who have erred, deliberately, accidentally or through a lack of understanding of road rules. But the dash cam can also expose and incriminate the dash cam’s own driver. Facebook has many groups dedicated to exposing bad driving, as they see bad driving, but many of the group members have something less than a good knowledge of traffic law and safe driving practices. Most, perhaps 90%, see themselves as above average drivers, but a basic knowledge of mathematics would tell us that that is a mathematical impossibility. In simple terms, many dash cam drivers are not as good as they think they are.
One such Facebook group is Road Madness NZ. The group has over a thousand members with posts and comments appearing frequently. But many of the posts are pin-pricking affairs that would not interest police. A few expose serious and dangerous breaches of the law, while other posts reveal wrongdoing only in the mind of the camera operating driver. All too often in the group, rank amateurs are putting themselves forward as experts. Not only that, but some are too quick to shout down, denigrate and abuse those who do have the knowledge and experience, instead of gracefully accepting soundly reasoned opinions.
Before going further, let me lay my own credentials on the line. My professional driving career started in 1961 when I worked as a loader driver for an aerial topdressing company. My car licence was issued in 1957, two years after qualifying for a private pilot licence in 1955. In the years following, I was employed to drive all classes of trucks, buses, taxis and shuttles, and passed the exams for a driving instructor. I have driven commercially in three countries and still drive from 10 to 45 hours a week, at two months short of age 80. I estimate that my total driving experience is close to 10 million kilometres. I still don’t know everything there is to know about good driving and I can still make mistakes and have made plenty over the years. Many times, a mistake on my part could have led to an accident, but others took appropriate action and saved my bacon. In spite of mistakes, I must be lucky. So far not a single person has been injured due to any avoidable mistake on my part.
But to return to Road Madness NZ, I joined the group a few weeks ago, because it appeared to be a place where road safety issues could be aired and debated, and I have long had an interest in road safety matters. I have also recently been involved in the formation of a road safety organisation where, when fully launched, will provide a forum for professional and amateur drivers to work together to make our roads safer. So, some Road Madness NZ members and others could potentially participate in the new organisation.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be. One post on Road Madness NZ caught my experience eye as a post where the driver captured in the video clearly made a bad mistake, but I could also see that the dash cam driver had made a bad mistake which contributed to an already dangerous situation. A truck had failed to give way and turned into the path of the dash cam vehicle. If that wasn’t bad enough, the dash cam driver, after some gasps of horror, continued into the path of the truck at much the same speed until almost on the truck’s tailgate. Professional drivers see this kind of behaviour frequently. It is a kind of amateur teaching the professional how to drive, and it is very dangerous.
I posted the following comment:
Remember the slogan DRIVE WITH CARE. OTHERS MAKE MISTAKES. The driver of the camera car seemed more intent on making alarming noises first and braking later. If the truck had stopped after pulling out, the camera car driver would have been in grave danger of colliding with the truck. 
The truck driver made a serious error of judgement, but there was no need for the car driver to contribute to the danger by failing to take timely evasive action.
People who have dash cameras to catch other drivers should make sure that their own driving is above question.
The driver in question denied all responsibility for avoiding a collision and his language in later comments became abusive and obscene. In response, my comments remained respectful and courteous, but insistent that the dash cam driver could have done better. A few drivers agreed with my stance, but most did not. A point of contention, and not understood by some, was the legal requirement for all drivers to take whatever action is necessary to avoid an accident, regardless of who may have initially been responsible. They were talking about ‘right of way’ instead of ‘give way,’ without realising that in traffic law there is no right of way ever.
To sum up the encounter with Road Madness NZ, after dozens of comments, many of them whacky and unintelligible, I was expelled from the group. In short, I had rocked their cosy, dreamy boat. Leaving the group may be a blessing. I can now pursue more productive pursuits.
Watch this space for a new dash cam group on Facebook, where the rules will require respectful language, fair treatment and a genuine interest in road safety, rather than a place to brag about how they caught a mug driver red-handed, even if they had to speed up to 120 kph to get the number plate. To some Road Madness NZ members, the law is what they make it on the day, and that is madness.