Semi-Trailer Tag

by Tina Holmboe 20th of December 2009 (archive)

I’ve said it before: people fascinate me. One particular trait which, I believe, is unique to the species is the ability to lay blame.

Let me paint you a picture.

My significant other and I are the proud owners of a house in the countryside ca. an hour or so from Stockholm. The road there is wide, modern, and well maintained — two lanes in each direction, broad shoulders and a medium amount of traffic.

The speed limit is, depending on location, between 100 and 120 kilometres per hour. In Sweden this translates to normal speeds of 129,5 to 149,5 km/h since there exist a common belief that the cops won’t take your license if you do no more than 30 km/h above posted. It might even be true. The fines are peanut–like enough that speeding is considered «normal».

Since said road go on to Oslo, Norway, it is also home to, at any given time, a number of semi–trailers. These 18–wheel beasts are normally certified at 90 km/h and stick to that. It’s a safe bet their drivers are fully aware of reaction times, safe inter–vehicle distances, and the results that come from thinking one is Sterling Moss and not subject to the laws of physics.

Not everyone think this way, which has led me to the following scenario – not once, or twice, but at least three times.

I /normally/ stick to the speed limit. A 110 is where our Peugeot 307SW is the most comfortable, and — importantly — where it guzzle the least petrol.

Subsequently I stay in the right hand lane. The exception is when I need to pass someone, such as a semi–trailer or two. Coming up behind one I turn my indicator light on, and wait a moment to be sure other drivers have noticed my intentions.

Check rear view. Check left side. Check left blind–spot. Change lane and start overtaking. I’ve got a speed advantage of 20 km/h, so this won’t take long. And that’s when it appears.

From behind arrive another car doing far more than I, and in the left lane. He keeps coming until he is so close that your average CSI might consider paint transfer, and start flashing his high–beams.

He wants me, the slow one, out of his way so that he can pass.

The more observant among you have spotted the problem: that 44–tonne bundle of joy is still due starboard. There is literally not an inch of room for me, something the bugger /behind/ doesn’t give a damn about — he keeps flashing.

I could, now, say «to hell with the speed limit» and stand on the accelerator, but at this point in the narrative I am not feeling particularly charitable. I continue to overtake the semi–trailer.

As I would quite like the big guy to have at least a theoretical chance at stopping should something undefined, but involving brakes, happen, I wait until I am at least 3 seconds ahead before contemplating any swift moves.

I change lane. So does the guy on my tail — normally with a honk or a one–finger salute, and traditionally about half a second after he has overtaken me, without indicator lights. Personally I suspect BMW and Audi sell cars in Sweden without’em.

I think I can safely assume that you agree this was a somewhat dangerous situation. But who should shoulder the blame? Who was responsible?

That right.

I was.

Without doubt it is I who, by not breaking the speed limit, created a situation in which an accident could happen. It is, you see, not my job to force the guy behind to abide by the law. On the other hand it /is/ his job to force me to break it.

Since I didn’t obey his «instructions», and thereby «forced» him to actually wait, I am such a poor driver in what passes for traffic culture in this place.

Bitter much? Not any more. I now do what people tell me to do: take care of my own driving and leave others to do what they want. Of course, that only applies as long as they don’t want me out of the way …