Screeeeech. Crunch!

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    The New York Second, which has been called the ‘shortest unit of time in the multiverse’, is defined as the period of time between traffic lights turning green and the cab behind you splitting your eardrums with honking. 

    Waiheke Island is more Tiny Feijoa than Big Apple, and its residents are not as honk happy as New York cab drivers. This is not to say that we don’t live life in the fast lane. Some of us have our own way of expressing impatience, and it is just as disconcerting. 

    The Waiheke Police Station is smaller than I expected, the opposite of Dr Who’s TARDIS – it looks bigger from the outside. Despite living on Waiheke for 16 years, I have led a sheltered life. All right, I admit it – I have never been inside ‘the cop shop’ before now. 

    For the first time in my life, I wanted to report a crime. 

    When my partner Greg and I left the house that morning, we never expected we would end up here, at the little blue house next to the butcher’s shop in Oneroa. It was sunny – a good day for a peaceful drive to the beach. 

    Returning to Oneroa from Onetangi Beach via Ostend road, we slowed down outside the dump – I mean, the Waiheke Community Resource Recovery Park – as the car in front of us slowed to turn in. In front was a tall trailer-less Mack truck cab. Behind us – very close behind us – was a ute, which was forced to stop suddenly. 

    Greg (who was driving) muttered “tailgater.” 

    I looked around. The ute was glued to our bumper.

    And as we took off again, that’s where it stayed, as if stuck to our towbar with superglue. 

    As tailgating went, this was a doozy. All Greg could do was put his arm out of the window and make ineffectual shooing gestures.

    The ute stayed with us into Ostend, the windscreen uncomfortably close to our back window.

    Anyone who has sat a driving test knows the two second rule; many drivers prefer three seconds, (four seconds at night, or in the rain, is recommended). In case you need a refresh, here’s how it goes – as the car in front of you passes a power pole, start counting ‘one thousand and one, one thousand and two’ – or, even better, “only a nitwit breaks the two second rule” – you should reach the power pole at the end of the last word. This helps create the minimum distance which should exist between you and the car in front of you. 

    At 40kph, roughly our speed behind the big slow truck in front of us, the AA’s ‘Stopping distances at different speeds’ chart estimates that a braking driver will travel 12 metres while reacting, and 24 metres while braking – a total distance of 36 metres. 

    The ute behind us wasn’t giving us 15 metres of space. It wasn’t giving us one metre of space. It wasn’t giving us the length of a baguette. If another vehicle had collided with the ute, it would have been a Mack truck-us-ute sandwich.

    Screeeeech. Crunch! 

    Why did this person drive so recklessly? 

    Most of the time tailgating is probably more about complacency than aggression. 

    As a Canterbury driving instructor, Duncan Seed, told an industry blog: “In my experience as a trainer, tailgating is a habit that is formed because of a lack of negative experiences in someone’s driving or riding. Day after day we see drivers and riders tailgate each other, we may do it ourselves, and guess what? Nothing bad happens! So our experience reinforces [a] false belief.”

    If tailgating is rude and unthinking at best, at worst it is a kind of road rage. The tailgater is sending us a very clear message. Go faster, they are shouting with a silent megaphone, get out of my way.

    In our case, the tailgater’s driving was so extreme that it felt aggressive and intimidating. We had no room to pull over and let him pass and we couldn’t go faster because we had a Mack truck in front of us, visible for half a mile. 

    This was a frightening experience — so scary, in fact, that we wrote down the ute’s license plate number, and drove to the police station in Oneroa for the first time in our lives, to report the tailgater’s dangerous driving.

    We were greeted with kindness and sympathy, and I filled in a Community Roadwatch report.

    “We get a lot of these,” I was told. The police promised to call the driver and run through ‘expected standards of driver behaviour’, which was fine by us.

    A few weeks later, a police staffer called me back to report on her conversation with the driver of the ute.

    “What did he say?” I asked, with horrified fascination.

    “He said, ‘I get a lot of these,’ she told me.”

    Maybe the ‘New York Second’ should be joined by the tailgater’s version of the two-second rule – the ‘Waiheke nano-second.’ • Jenny Nicholls

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