Watching out for ‘the car’ and other hazards of driving

When I was a lad and learning to drive, my Dad always warned me to watch out for ‘the car’. What he meant was the vehicle that – unerringly and without fail – would always be there, instantly, as I backed out of a driveway, or as I tried to change lanes, or turn a corner. The road could be completely empty, but nonetheless ‘the car’ would always turn up at the precise wrong moment and force me to give way to it.

At the time, foolish teenager that I was, I always thought this was just a joke. But, something-something decades and around 250,000 km of driving later, I can state for a fact that ‘the car’ isn’t just real. It is, indeed, always there.

Let me put it this way. The other day, with New Zealand in hard lockdown and no vehicles allowed on the roads other than for essential travel to supermarkets, I made a trip to the supermarket. And as I backed out of the driveway, sure enough – there it was. ‘The car’, arriving out of nowhere at precisely at the point where I had to abort the manoeuvre in order to avoid being hit as it swept past. It was, of course, the sole other vehicle on the road.

Main street of a southern Hawke’s Bay town. Notice the cars able to pull out without having to first wait for a truck. Unlike me.

I’ve noticed the same thing in any parking space. If I’m backing out of the parking space, unerringly another vehicle next to mine will do the same thing. Instantly. Or if I pull in to a parking space and go to leave the car, another vehicle will instantly sweep in to the empty space next to mine, making opening the door hazardous. Or if I need to reverse anywhere, instantly another car appears – as if by magic – preventing me from doing so. What gets me is how instant this all is – it doesn’t appear a few seconds before, or a few seconds later. It’s always right on the button.

Sometimes ‘the car’ isn’t a car. It’s a truck. I notice this regularly when driving between cities. Every time, just as I’m about to pull into the highway and start accelerating, I have to give way to a truck. Then I’m stuck behind it for the next 80 or 90 km. It’s both instant and automatic. The problem is that the speed limit for trucks is 10 km/h slower than that for cars, meaning that every truck ends up with a conga-line of frustrated drivers sitting behind it. New Zealand highways, of course, are mostly only two lane and it’s impossible to pass a huge, snaking Kiwi-style AB-train with any safety.

Lest anybody suppose I only notice the times I’m inconvenienced by a vehicle arriving at precisely the wrong moment, I’ve done tallies. It happens to me a lot more often than not. Doubtless Carl Jung could explain it. Or maybe not.

Do you have problems with ‘the car’ instantly turning up, precisely at the wrong moment, every time you try to do anything on the road?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2021


10 thoughts on “Watching out for ‘the car’ and other hazards of driving

  1. The same “inconveniences” occur to me also, although it would seem the gods look more favourably on me than they do on you. I’m always aware of the possibility of a car/truck being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I’m also aware that more times than not, it doesn’t happen. Perhaps it’s as much a state of mind as it is a statistical probability. Perhaps too, as many friends and whānau have commented, I have the patience of a saint. And they literally mean it but in an uncomplimentary way. I don’t get riled in situations where most other “normal” people do.

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    1. It’s common enough. In my case, I did wonder about issues of perception – only noticing the inconveniences and never registering the times things went smoothly. But when I collected actual numeric data, and over a large enough period to be statistically useful, it became fairly clear that – in fact – things for me are inconvenient more often than not. I could theorise about density of traffic and such like, but when we’re in lockdown and the sole car on the road is still in the precise place where I have to manoeuvre to avoid it, I do have to wonder if I’m not trapped in a Larsen cartoon.

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    1. It’s always a worry, backing out. I had an incident once, pulling out of a driveway with high hedges blocking the view to each side. There was a footpath and reasonable berm, so I knew I’d have no problem seeing the road once I’d cleared the hedge at the end of the drive. I stopped before moving out to the footpath, which was lucky because a kid riding a bike on the footpath at high speed appeared out of nowhere, missing the car by about 30 cm. Instantly! It was like clockwork. I was glad I’d stopped as the kid would have otherwise slammed into the rear side fender of my car and probably been hurt.

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  2. lol – I learned to ride a motorbike before I learned to drive a car so I have ‘collision radar’ on at all times. And then, of course, there’s Lady Luck. Just because some people can waltz through life without ever having to worry about collisions doesn’t mean that all people can. There are those who get bad luck regularly in order to fill out that left hand corner of the bell curve.
    I strongly advise you to continue expecting to see ‘the car’ at the worst possible moment. You’ll live longer. 🙂

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    1. I get that totally! No question that motorcycle ‘collision avoidance skills’ come in handy with cars! I learned how to drive a car initially (my Mum’s ancient 1952 Morris MM with pre-war sidevalve engine and no synchromesh on first or second – meaning I had to master double-declutching… never lost that knack…). But about a year later I bought a little bike as a student commuter and, to this day, am a licensed motorcycle rider. Yup, although I haven’t ridden one since 1986 I could sashay into the local Ducati dealer, pick up a SuperSport 950 with more horsepower than the Mk V Cortina I owned in the early 1990s, and hurtle off into the sunset – all fully legal and licensed. Ahem. (You can guess how this idea would likely end, quite apart from the fact that no bike has enough wheels, bodywork with crumple-zones, airbags, aircon and other creature comforts for my tastes today).

      The thing was that the little commuter bike was horribly underpowered to the point of being dangerous in traffic, had no handling etc & I really had to be on my toes (as it were) to stay alive. Many of those skills are still with me… I watch cars at give-way signs for any indication of wheel turning, just in case they haven’t seen me. Another time I ended up driving a hired Ford something-or-other which went like a rocket but had zero actual handling and crazy dangerous oversteer (I felt the back end ‘walking’ out on a sweeper rated for 80 km/h by signage when my speed was significantly lower). Suddenly the old bike handling paranoia was back, along with the skills to compensate.

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      1. OMG…Yes! I had to learn to double de-clutch my Morris Nomad – my first 4 wheel vehicle! And I’ve proudly kept my motorbike licence too. God help me if I ever tried to use it though. 🙂
        Hail Kindred spirit!
        I do have very fond memories of my first bike though. It was a Honda 125cc beastie that was just the right size for my 5’4″ self. It handled nicely and was incredibly forgiving of most of my mistakes. The Kawasaki that followed was just too big. 😦
        The survival skills we both learned have probably kept us alive and in one piece…in nice comfy cars. 😀

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  3. This is a phenomenon I have noticed frequently as well. I live on a rural road. More often than not as I pull out of my driveway, there is a car coming so I have to delay entering the road, despite the fact that I may not meet another one for several kilometers after I enter the road. On that same road we have a S-curve at the bottom of which is a narrow bridge which should really take only one vehicle at a time. Almost invariably, I meet another vehicle which, if we both maintain our speed, will bring it to the bridge at exactly the time I will reach it. One of us has to give way, usually me as the other rarely slows down. Often, I meet no other vehicle, or only one or two for the remaining six kilometers I will be on that road.

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    1. I get that too, often, when approaching narrow bridges. And yeah, it’s usual that the other party never gives way or brakes. I keep thinking that the best vehicle for open road driving is probably a main battle tank… 🙂

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