I use the N14 between Muldersdrift and Centurion almost every day. Not only is it the fastest way home for me, but it’s also devoid of those annoying decorative features called e-toll gantries.
I used to love driving down the N14, but a test vehicle recently highlighted a major issue with this road, and it has nothing to do with infrastructure. It concerns the people who use it.
I was driving the new BMW X5 and it was fitted with the optional radar guided cruise control system. This feature allows the driver to set the cruise control at a certain speed and the car will maintain that speed, unless it detects a car in front of you. Then it will brake automatically. Once the other car has moved over, the BMW accelerates back to the set speed.
“Active cruise control”, as it’s called, also allows you to set the following distance you want to keep from the car in front of you. I had it set on the closest possible following distance, which is more or less four car lengths.
Unfortunately, we live in a province that pays zero attention to following distances.
I set the cruise control on 125km/h, kept in the left lane as you are supposed to do, and only moved over to the right lane if there was someone slower than me in front.
Although 125km/h is the absolute legal limit that you can get away with, I still had people flying past on the left and pushing in front of my car, mere metres before the successful completion of my overtaking manoeuvre.
This is potentially catastrophic. The BMW’s safety systems, brilliant though they may be, are slightly paranoid. The car climbed on the brakes and flashed a red car inside a warning triangle on the heads-up display. The fool that overtook me continued on his way, while the people behind me wondered why the guy in the X5 had slammed on the brakes for something so simple and commonplace on our roads.
I used to think that a lack of common courtesy towards fellow motorists was limited to South African roads, but I recently read an article that leads me to believe that people everywhere need a refresher course.
It all started with a small device designed for frequent flyers, called the Knee Defender. It basically blocks the person in front of you from reclining his/her seat all the way down, and I think it’s a marvellous invention.
The device has unfortunately been banned by most airlines after it caused a massive argument between two passengers in the US. The pilot had to divert the plane to a nearby airfield to kick the two combatants off the plane.
The incident caused a national uproar, with one camp backing the Knee Defender and the other (wrong) camp furiously fighting for the device to be banned.
I have my own personal set of rules when it comes to flying, and I also apply them on the road: Basically, they boil down to, “Don’t be a donkey’s buttocks”.
On a two-hour flight between Jozi and Cape Town, I don’t touch the recline button on my seat because it is such a short flight that it’s quite unnecessary to do so. By reclining your seat, you are likely to make it impossible for the person behind you to do whatever it is they do to pass the time. Reading a book, for example, is impossible with someone else’s head in your lap.
It’s a different story on an international flight. The norm is to get some sleep on an overnight flight, so at some point you have to recline your seat. Before doing so, it is a matter of simple courtesy to ask the person behind you if it’s OK to recline your seat a smidgeon.
I know it’s a bit weird to write about airplane behaviour in a motoring publication, but this latest controversy perfectly illustrates how big an issue self-importance has become.
I agree that it’s natural to act in your own interests and those of your family, but there are times when you have to share and consider the well-being of others, such as in public transport and on the roads. After all, you are not alone.
So please, before you recline your seat on a local flight, check that the guy behind you isn’t using his laptop to catch up on some work. Chances are, he’s having a Coke while contemplating the contents of his next opinion piece.
And I can tell you from experience that fizzy drinks and computer innards don’t mix that well!