By Helen Wells
New figures revealing the number of fines issued for bus lane and ‘yellow box’ offences (amongst other things) by London drivers have received widespread news coverage today. The reporting has, predictably, focused on the injustice of punishing drivers for breaking the law. The RAC has contributed to this narrative by suggesting that there is something inherently devious about punishing drivers without giving them due warning, or for enforcing laws for ‘minor’ breaches (the definition of which is unclear). Generally speaking, such injustice and unfairness narratives have typified any attempts to encourage drivers to obey the law in recent years, with the heated debate about speed cameras being only one example. An RAC spokeswoman also suggested that "Motorists are generally law abiding and want to obey the rules." Statistics suggest, however, that such a law-abiding identity is more attractive than it is realistic, with drivers keen to resist the implication of law-breaking even when evidence suggests otherwise. Indeed, it is common for the law, the enforcement methods, the motives of the enforcers, or all three, to be called into question as part of the efforts of the ‘law-abiding’ to resist the implication that they are otherwise. What strikes me as interesting in this current reporting is that, with drivers encouraged to see themselves as ‘targeted’, ‘milked’ and ‘persecuted’ (depending on your choice of news source), the fact that offending drivers are offending against, inconveniencing, delaying or endangering each other seems to be effectively overlooked. Drivers are encouraged to think of themselves as a united bunch, and not to think of other offending motorists as obstructions or obstacles to their free and safe passage (as the enforcement rationale would encourage us to see them). Whilst the ‘oppressed majority’ narrative may be sustainable in the case of speeding (where drivers may be able to view other speeding drivers as facilitating their own speedy journey, and where slow drivers are more likely to come in for censure), such a stance in relation to offences that give other drivers an unfair advantage (bus lane incursions) or which cause other drivers to be delayed (yellow box offences) is surprisingly popular.
Such narratives were the focus of my recent presentation to the Road Safety Scotland annual seminar in Edinburgh, and a report on that presentation was published last week in the Road Safety Scotland newsletter Direction which can be found here.