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BACK when I was learning to drive here in the ACT it was a fairly simple process. Extra attention was given to how to approach roundabouts and my driving instructor regularly said to watch out for the cars with NSW number plates, because you never knew what they were going to do.
Perhaps I’m looking at the past through rose-coloured driving glasses, but as someone who moved away from Canberra for several years, it seems that while I was elsewhere, the rule at the top of the list for our Y-registered vehicles seems to have become “every man for himself”.
Merging? Forget about going car by car from alternate lanes, it’s get as far forward as you possibly can. Beating those two extra cars and forcing other drivers to make a gap to fit you has to be worth at least a couple of seconds off your journey time.
Speed limits? Nah, they have to be optional. Or advisory. Although to be fair on today’s drivers, this really hasn’t changed much, there are just more cars trying to go fast.
Mobile phones? Well, it used to be you only had one if you were a yuppie wanker, so using one while you were driving gave you the chance to show you were one. Today, almost everyone has one, meaning a great leap forward for equality as – despite the demise of yuppiedom – almost everyone now has the chance to be a wanker.
But the real, wild frontier of Canberra’s roads today is not any of these moving violations, it’s parking. It doesn’t matter what kind of car park, roadside, public, private, it’s not that the rules don’t apply, they may as well not exist. Except for the aforementioned “every man for himself”.
I recently moved into a new apartment complex where there are about a dozen visitor spaces. They’re clearly marked with the word VISITOR in large yellow letters. The idea that they’re not for residents to park in has been reinforced by newsletters to residents. Has it worked? Of course not!
Visitor spaces aren’t really for visitors, they’re for people who’ve bought a unit with one car space to park their second car in. As is the communal driveway space outside your garage door. Especially if it impedes every other resident on the complex.
What about the lines in car parks? My best guess is that today they’re not there to mark spaces as much as to give drivers an approximate location for their vehicles. It’s almost as if the aim is to see if you can park with the line directly under the centre of your vehicle.
Roadside parking is a lottery now. Get close to the kerb? Nah, leave a metre and a half. Or park on the nature strip. Or across a driveway. And forget about staying 10 metres from an intersection, or 20 metres if there’s a set of traffic lights.
Gungahlin’s suburbs in particular seem to be a haven for this, and it’s worse in the town centre, where the customers for the plethora of food outlets have taken to parking on pedestrian crossings and in left turn lanes in the evenings.
But the final element of “every man for himself”? And this is a doozy. It’s the growing trend when someone has finished with their car, to park it somewhere and walk away. This used to be a problem at airports and train stations, where cars would be abandoned by travellers, leading to the odd news story of parking fees worth more than the vehicle in question being racked up.
Nowadays, it’s much more widespread. My journey to work is three kilometres. Recently, I was able to pass not one, not two, but five abandoned vehicles. The parking inspectors have gradually been putting their hi-vis stickers on them and arranging removal, but at least one still hasn’t been touched, even though I am reliably informed it was reported months ago.
Maybe instead of “every man for himself” we should all hark back to the ’80s, and take some advice from one of the great police dramas of that time, “Hill Street Blues”. Every week after roll call the advice was: “Let’s be careful out there”. There has to be something in that, surely.
Chris Coleman presents “Canberra Live”, 2CC, weekdays, 3pm-6pm.