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Here Comes Treble: A Caution Against Complacency

Isabel Bradley tells of four alarming incidents which highlight the need to be ever alert while at the wheel of, or a passenger in, a car.

Isabel frequently writes about one of the greatest joys - the making of fine music. She also writes about the sombre side of life. To read more of her ever-interesting words click on Here Comes Treble in the menu on this page.

Each time Ive fallen into an easy state of complacency, shocking incidents have reinforced self-awareness and with it, the need for greater caution.

I consider myself a reasonably good driver. I maintain safe following distances, try always to be aware and obey the rules of the road. Being satisfied with my driving and convinced that Im safe and in control when behind the steering wheel, however, has proven to be extremely dangerous.

One night, after rehearsal, I climbed into the drivers seat, switched on the engine and pointed the car in the general direction of home. I remember driving down the hill; then, seemingly a blink later, I looked around: I didnt know where I was! Id either fallen asleep or blacked out, driven under a bridge, across a large intersection where I should have turned right, and was heading, on the wrong side of the road, for a busy T-junction. What a shock, and what a lucky escape. I learnt that night that I should never drive when Im exhausted.

On another occasion, I was driving my teenage daughter home from the movies. We were on a main road, a route Id driven daily for the last fifteen years. It was drizzling, the road was slick. We were in fast-moving traffic. Suddenly, far ahead, a vehicle stopped unexpectedly, against the right-hand kerb. (We drive on the left hand side of the road). In domino-like reaction, several cars shunted into those ahead. Im fine, I muttered, as I swung the steering wheel and indicated that I was changing lanes, gently touching the brakes. My left wheel skidded on the slippery white line: I swore viciously as the car slid forward into a vehicle that was ricocheting off another. We came to a crashing halt. In the sudden silence, my daughter began swearing in pain where did she learn those colourful words? Her arm was fractured. That wake-up call to maintain a greater following distance and drive slower in the rain was far more shocking than the previous experience.

A few years later my self-confidence and complacency while driving had returned. Id just spent a wonderful afternoon with a friend, and was headed home. At a busy intersection I waited at the stop-sign for a while. Eventually there was a break in the whizzing traffic to the left, the cars were a safe distance away; to the right, a pick-up truck was about to turn left, with no traffic behind it. I selected first gear and accelerated into the truck that was supposed to be turning: it had driven straight ahead in a turning lane. The vehicles collided at high speed. The impact whipped my head backwards, forwards, left and right, causing discomfort for many months. This was another difficult lesson and another lucky escape: the incident gave me the incentive I needed to always be aware and double check time and space when driving.

The most recent incident came in a different form, though also when driving. Leon and I were in my lovely new car, on our way to a committee meeting. Leon was examining the map, with the interior light on, while I was driving. We felt safe and cosy. The long line of cars came to a halt at a traffic light; we were surrounded by vehicles waiting for the lights to change. Leon was muttering about the new route hed decided on when there was a loud bang! bang! on the passenger window behind him. Both our heads whipped around in shock as the car rocked with the impact. Leon looked directly into the face of a man wielding a hammer, shouted and tried to open the door which, luckily, was locked. Realising that this was either a smash and grab or a potential hijacking, I changed to first gear and accelerated, while holding one hand on the hooter. The traffic light changed to green and the cars ahead of us began moving. We drove on, both of us shaking. The window, though shattered, was held together by the tinted safety film applied to both sides of the glass; shards sparkled like a myriad jewels in the lights of the traffic.

It was another lucky escape, and another lesson learned. Leon and I had become complacent, which is always dangerous. The incident reminded us that we are not immune to the crime that is so prevalent in South Africa. We will double our vigilance, we will never again drive in the dark with the interior light on.

Such incidents serve as a reminder to everyone: remain vigilant, alert and cautious; never consider yourself infallible. Next time, you may not be so lucky!

Until next week here comes Treble!

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