Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?

Over here in the UK, you just don't see police speed traps.  Back in Texas, the local Barney Fifes and cowboy hat wearing state troopers were masters of surprise.  They were quite ingenious, hiding just past a bend in the road, over the top of a hill, right behind a copse of trees or in the shadow of an overpass on a sunny day.  They were the hunters and my SUV was the prey.  By the time you spotted them and hit the brakes, it was often too late.   

On this side of the Atlantic, I seldom spot law enforcement out and about, patrolling the roads.  And why should they waste the gas when they can just set up cameras all over the place?  On many roads, you even see signs warning drivers that cameras are in operation.  It's so strange to think that they pay folks to sit behind a desk and watch screens all day to spot serious criminals like me.

This morning I received a letter from the royal borough of Kingston-Upon-Thames, notifying me that last Sunday at 11:35 on Eden Street I violated Code 34J when my vehicle was seen contravening bus lane regulations.  In case I didn't understand this verbiage, they provided an English-to-English translation in parentheses for me... being in a bus lane.  

If I got a hankering to contest this with the hope of avoiding their penalty charge for my heinous driving offense, the letter also stated, "The alleged contravention was noted by camera operator number KT074 who was observing real-time footage from the CCTV camera taken at the time stated.  This alleged contravention is supported by videotaped evidence."  So yeah, it looks like I'll be coughing up the 60 pounds sometime during the next two weeks before the fine doubles.

There are two things about this situation that really irritate me.  The first one is that I had NO IDEA I was driving in a bus lane.  Since I made a perfect score on the written portion of my UK driving test, I was aware that it's unlawful to drive in a bus lane.  Of course, I already knew that since it's also a rule of the road in the USA.  How far did I travel in the bus lane?  Was it just a brief stint in the sacred area reserved for the bus or did I hog it up over the course of a mile or two?  At the risk of sounding like a smart a$$, I would honestly like to know.  The letter stated that it's possible to view the video evidence and I'm sorely tempted to take them up on it.  However, that would involve me driving back over there and I might inadvertently drive in the darned bus lane again and earn myself yet another fine.  Wouldn't that just be the icing on the cake?

The second thing that irritates me is I've been driving on a whole 'nother continent on the "wrong" side of the road as well as steering from what has always been the passenger seat in my vehicle back home... for a whopping two months.  I don't think I deserve special treatment and should, of course, be expected to abide by the rules of the road.  But can't you cut me some slack here?  I've moved beyond the borderline panic attacks from my first forays on the local streets.  It's no longer necessary to carry a paperbag in the car to control the hyperventilating.  I no longer curse like a sailor (usually) when the road narrows and I pass each vehicle parked ON THE ROAD in my lane of traffic, wincing as I anticipate the destruction of my left side mirror.  We're finally able to listen to the radio playing softly and the children are allowed to talk while I'm trying to keep from getting us killed as we drive to the grocery store for milk.  I keep reminding myself that bicyclists are not demons sent from hell to torture me every time I get behind one on a major thoroughfare, which happens every single time I venture forth in my vehicle.  Yes, even at night.

I'm glad the roads are kept safe for humanity.  I can only imagine the eyestrain these poor folks suffer, watching screens all day to jot down license numbers on cars driven by maniacs like me.  I just think they need to go after the serious offenders - folks who reach around to swat their kids in the backseat while threatening to pull the car over to the side of the road or maybe the ones who pick their noses while driving.  

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