The struggle to respect, and street scripts

In an earlier blogpost I wrote about my attempts to make “random acts of kindness” an habitual part of my driving day. Just in case my children should see that post; or the people who responded so generously to it (including an elderly lady with walking stick, and wheelchair users) should see me driving – I have a confession to make. I often get it wrong. I sail past pedestrian crossings which have children waiting to cross at them. I swing left and narrowly miss office workers.  I drive through. Past. Over. I confess, I confess! In truth, I often fall short of my aspiration to treat other road users as human. And yet it is also true that this is my deepest wish. I know it’s unfashionable, but I really want to respect other road users, especially those who aren’t driving. In fact, I spend a lot of my working life, and a good chunk of my spare time working towards this goal. So why is it so difficult?
Madelaine Akrich offers some clues as to why I, and many of us, fail despite our best intents. In her work on technologies she argues technological artefacts, like roads, traffic signals, curbstones and all the paraphenalia of the street, behave like a film script. This film script prompts us to act out our lives in particular ways. Thus a freeway scripts us to drive fast; a red light scripts us to stop, and a traffic circle scripts us to turn left. These examples are so obvious, even mundane that we take them completely for granted. Amongst those obvious “scripts”, though, are the less obvious and more insidious ones. A wider road, for example, scripts “speed”, even on a suburban street. Straight roads also script “fast”, regardless of the number of people crossing, or the schools nearby. South African road infrastructure scripts in millions of subtle ways and for the most part these scripts are for priority, and speed, to the car driver. In this daily drama the simple act of behaving independently, and counter to the script, is much tougher than we may think.
Tough, but not impossible. I re-commit to “random acts of kindness” on the road. And I close my ears to the laughter of my teenage children on the backseat when I fall short.

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