Neil McNicholas: Lack of basic values causes bad driving

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WE’D like to think that the vast majority of drivers are law-abiding and that, therefore, those who disregard speed limits and drive aggressively and recklessly must surely be only a minority. They may well be, but it’s a dangerous, indeed life-threatening, minority.

According to a recent study, 78,984 fixed penalty notices were issued, one every seven minutes, for speeding and careless driving – and that was just in Yorkshire! And, of course, it represents only those who were caught. It provides a frightening reality check on the state of our roads and just how many drivers are putting other people’s lives at risk by choosing to ignore the law, and with their “me, myself and I” attitude.

This and a number of other current trends in our society confirms for me the role that a lack of personal discipline plays. At least two generations of children have been failed by the “do-gooders” who removed the right of parents and teachers to discipline their children. The word “no” is rarely heard and never enforced anymore. Those generations of children have learned by experience that they can do and say whatever they want and there are never any consequences for doing so.

Discipline isn’t something we are born with – it has to be taught and learned (hence the meaning of the word). If it isn’t taught it won’t be learned, it’s that simple. And self-discipline is a step further but depends on discipline itself having been learned in the first place.

The Yorkshire Post’s editorial on Monday noted the 80,000 fixed penalties and the suggestion “that there is still a hard core of drivers who are prepared to chance their luck because there is little likelihood of them being caught”. It is even worse than that. This tip-of-the-iceberg figure also represents drivers who don’t really care whether they are breaking the law or not – and the reason is that they have never learned to control their self-centred, “I’m alright Jack” attitude.

If there is a 30mph speed limit, or a stop sign, or double white lines down the centre of the road, what goes on inside a driver’s head that they decide they are going to ignore the law and do what they like? Often they are not even driving with due care and attention to begin with (perhaps on their mobile phones!) and so may not have even seen the signs, or the low risk of being caught justifies the risk to life and limb.

Of course it’s not that they think that way, the trouble is they aren’t thinking at all – that’s why it’s called careless driving. Not only are they not driving with due care, they actually couldn’t care less how they are driving.

I live on a built-up street where every road in the neighbourhood has a clearly sign-posted 20mph speed limit. Even as I write there are cars passing my door doing at last 40, some closer to 50 or even 60 because it doesn’t really matter, they is no risk of being caught. How do I know this? Because ever since I moved in I have been challenging the police to
do something about the situation.
Their response has basically been that whilst they accept there may be a problem, statistics show that no one has yet been knocked down! Well, that’s all right then.

The council highways people did paint some additional white 20s on the road but drivers – including of local school buses! – continue to take no notice and neither do the police and that’s why the recklessness continues. These are serial speeders (not those, as the article said, whose indiscretion is very minor and rare), indeed law-breakers, and the police are doing nothing to stop or prosecute them for their lawlessness and their carelessness.

Children are growing up without
being taught discipline (to do as they are told) much less self-discipline (doing as they are told even when there is no one around to catch them). They grow up to be adults who have therefore never learned discipline or to be self-disciplined. And they never will unless we get back to some of the basic values and rules that are the glue that holds our society together. And the most basic of these is respect – especially for one another.

• Father Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in the Diocese of Middlesbrough.