Mclaren 675LT Coupé
A close encounter with a ruthlessly efficient traffic official made me ponder why motorists are quick to play the blame game
ONSIDERING just how slender the rear window was on the Mercedes-benz SLS AMG I was driving, it was impressive just how much vivid blue light managed to filter into the car’s snug cabin. Quick to react to this duty call, I immediately made way for an officer of the law in the throes of an important assignment. It was only once the flashing blue lights tracked my evasive manoeuvre that I realised this official’s immediate task was to stop me in my tracks.
Running late for an early-morning photoshoot, and with my progress stubbornly hindered by fast-lane-hogging minibus taxis, my final act of defiance – and one that may have corresponded with a lane change inwards and an aggressive call to action from eight roaring cylinders – was unfortunately witnessed by an on-duty member of Cape Town’s undercover traffic unit.
CTwenty minutes later, as the unmarked Volkswagen headed into a sunrise whose rich hues I was supposed to have been capturing, I was left to reflect not only on how much leaner my bank balance was about to become, but also on the brutal efficiency with which my misplaced sense of entitlement and arrogance behind the wheel had been put in its place.
I was, after all, obviously the victim here. How dare my alarm clock not wake me earlier? How dare other road users not anticipate my urgency and relinquish the fast lane? How dare the authorities target me instead of focusing their attention on the other road users so clearly breaking the law that morning?
Eventually arriving at the shoot, I furiously considered which 140 characters would best convey my harrowing ordeal at the hands of such an arrogant and stubborn traffic authority to a social network that would obviously sympathise with my plight. Surely, had these officers not chosen to simply ignore my worthy excuse, nor taken such perceived pleasure in the spoiling of my morning plans, it would somehow have made the taste much less bitter.
I was especially grateful I didn’t end up mindlessly taking to social media when, two months later, my intrigue into the workings of the Ghost Squad saw me reunited with my capturers ahead of a ridealong evening with the specialised unit.
Observing night-shift proceedings from the back seat of an immaculately maintained VW Golf GTI, I watched a team of dedicated, thorough and obviously proud officers diligently ruining motorists’ evenings. Not, as I had assumed, because they took pleasure in it, but because, quite frankly, they far too frequently witness appalling driving behaviour on roads that, during any other evening, I might have been transporting my family.
While I’m not so naïve to think all uniformed officials, in all countries, don’t enjoy a certain level of personal gratification from wiping a smug smile from the face of a law breaker, in a South African context that satisfaction is surely muted by the sheer number of offenders.
Indeed, while our country regularly features on global top-10 lists of annual road fatalities – and amid alarming reports of officials more interested in procuring lunch money than issuing genuine fines – you have to sympathise with those trying to make a small difference. Consider too that in our country, once that blue light is triggered, the officer is also hedging a bet on the level of hostility they are about to encounter – and all of this on a minimal state wage.
While we live in a land where, on any given day, road-rule infringements with graver potential consequences than simply travelling 10 km/h over the speed limit go unseen, we should all play a larger role in making our commutes safer. Before we can complain about being easy targets for officials, why don’t we rather choose not to be a target at all?
Of course, instead of my V8 supercar, I would have preferred the vehicle trapped in the blue tractor beam that morning to have been one of the many non-roadworthy and overcrowded taxis blocking my path … but I can’t deny that my reaction to their lack of road manners resulted in me skirting the law, too.
In an age where anyone with Internet access is provided a platform from which to cry foul, I find it fascinating how many scorned traffic offenders’ default to playing the victim card before considering the larger picture. Excuses like “merely” glancing at a mobile phone while driving, “marginally” straying over the speed limit or “only” being one beer over the legal limit somehow sound more soothing than, “I admit to getting caught breaking the law.”
Ian Mclaren quickly realised that he’d have more access to the CAR test fleet if he wrote as well as photographed the cars for the magazine. Fifteen years later, Ian is the longest-serving current member – and still writes nice
things about pretty cars.