Thursday, August 28, 2003

Back to base

It's a strange feeling to leave a house for 10 weeks, and wonder what state it will be in on return. In fact everything was okay. Gardens were baked as a result of Britain's heatwave - though the begonias were in full flower, flourishing in a hot, bone-dry compost.

Wasps nest required a call to pest control. Gas boilers required a call out to re-start them (they were serviced last September, so they really should have started). But otherwise fine.

The Icelandic Post I didn't Post

I had planned a tongue-in-cheek post to the tune that Icelanders drive their cars as they ride their horses. Icelandic cars, like horses, are pack animals. They like going along nose-to-tail. The one up front likes being up-front, and will drift all over the road to be sure no-one overtakes. The rest follow in a pack. Overtaking is done horse-fashion – you ride parallel for a while around bends and corners, and might get past or might not. Like horses, cars can suddenly accelerate, stop, turn-round or do just about any other manoeuvre that comes to mind.

But I’ve just seen the wreckage of yet another accident, this one at a Reykjavik crossroads, and there can be nothing jocular about comments on Icelandic driving. As the traffic was just crawling past I had more opportunity than I wanted to see what was happening. Three cars apparently travelling from three different directions had gone front-on into one another, and all three were seriously wrecked. There was a fire-engine present which appeared to be cutting someone out of one car, and an ambulance standing by.

I think this is accident seven I’ve seen or seen the remains of since being in Iceland.

Driving speeds are slow, and the roads range from half-empty to empty. Most cars appear well maintained. At first glance the driving appears very sedate and sensible. Virtually all the road miles in Iceland are done on the roads of Greater Reykjavik, which are in decent condition and well signed. Iceland should have very safe roads indeed. But statistically they don’t, and in my experience they don’t.

Grapevine, the English language newspaper, reports that during the first weekend in June alone over 100 people were caught speeding by the police of Vik i Myrdal. Now my guidebook informs me that this community has a population of 293 (as well as being the wettest place in Iceland). My atlas indicates that the Vik administrative district is rather larger than the community, but it is still tiny, and there’s not many roads there. I rather think if in England the police (or policeman, singular?) of the spot on the road called Bogvalley Bay (which is what Vik i Myrdal means) caught 100 people speeding on one weekend, then the police would be in court facing civil liberty charges. It is as if the police in Iceland have abdicated responsibility for dealing with bad driving (time and again I see police cars ignore the most ghastly examples of bad driving), and instead are dealing only with infringements of speed. And of all the many examples of bad driving I’ve seen, I don’t think one of them has been speed related. Route 1 through Vik i Myrdal includes long stretches of straight, wide road with an excellent surface where you can see for very long distances. And it has hardly any cars. Of course drivers exceed 90kmh. Iceland produces traffic flow information which indicates the number of cars through any particular stretch of road, and Vik runs at around 300 a day. So even assuming a weekend is three days, this means the Vik police stopped around one in every ten drivers for speeding.

If Iceland wants to get their death toll down to UK levels they have to look at their driving test (which I assume is not much of a test) and they have to put the efforts of their road police into dealing with dangerous driving.

In Italy the driving is, well Italian, and speed limits which are much higher anyway are interpreted as minimum speeds. Yet fewer people are killed. Iceland has got it wrong. And this mistake is killing people.

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