29 Dec 2017

Roads Run Through Us: 4

From John Bluck writes, 7:10 am on 29 December 2017

'Grace' is a word never used in road codes

John Bluck explores the ways of the road in this fourth of a series about the place roads have in New Zealand's history, consciousness and identity.​

Spaghetti Junction

Spaghetti Junction Photo: Flickr / altanramadan

From the talk

50 years ago you thought you were someone special and just a little privileged when you got behind the wheel. There was a ritual to go through, and preparations to be made. Water and oil to be checked. Today, as I found when I bought a new car, the salesman said, “We’d rather you didn’t lift the bonnet between annual services.”

I was shocked.

My father would have been even more. He made sure you checked on your footwear before driving, no sandals or high heels thank you, walked around the vehicle to look at the tires, and warmed the motor before taking off. And there was a litany to recite, apart from good bye and take care, that began with “Have you forgotten anything?”

It all added dignity to the drive and you were expected to behave decently on the journey. Road rage was unheard of. And not surprisingly.

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Photo: Flickr / Alice Salles

The term wasn’t coined till the mid 1990s, first printed in the Sunday Times when an elder from a London synagogue jumped out of his Mercedes and punched a Buddhist monk driving a Nissan Micra. It was a novelty then, now it’s an epidemic and a measure of how far our road manners have disintegrated.

The old chivalry still lingers, especially in country areas where it’s still common to lift a finger off the steering wheel to greet oncoming drivers and pedestrians. As I walk up my country road each afternoon, I count those who greet me and those who don’t.

It’s about 70 – 30 in favour of civility. But as more Aucklanders move to the country the figure for raised fingers drops. And it’s a pity, because you can convey everything from affection to polite indifference and much worse with that gesture, yet still be polite.

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Photo: Flickr / Bernard Spragg

Roads don’t ask much of us as motorists anymore. The newer, sealed ones are forgiving of our errors. They cope with our mistakes in all weathers. But they do expect us to be grown-ups, to acknowledge each other and make room for each other as we pass and follow, to give each other the respect of space and good manners, and if it’s not too much to ask, a modicum of patience, and to add a word never used in road codes, even of grace.

More reading

AA advice on road etiquette

Other parts of the series

Roads Run Through Us Episode 1

Roads Run Through Us Episode 2

Roads Run Through Us Episode 3

Roads Run Through Us Episode 5

Roads Run Through Us Episode 6

About the speaker

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Photo: RNZ / Paul Bushnell

John Bluck

John Bluck was born in Hawkes Bay, educated at Napier Boys’ High School, the University of Canterbury and the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge Massachusetts. He's had interwoven careers in journalism and ministry for the Anglican Church, spending time as a reporter in Boston, USA.

A former journalism tutor and chaplain at the Wellington Polytechnic, he has edited a number of publications including the World Council of Churches’ "One World" magazine in Geneva.

His ecclesiastical career started in Gisborne and took him to posts as varied as Director of Communications at the World Council of Churches, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Communication at Dunedin's Knox Theological Seminary, and Dean of Christchurch Cathedral. He was the 14th Anglican Bishop of Waiapu.

After resigning his See in 2008, he left moved to a rural setting near Warkworth from which he has continued to write and publish.