Thursday, November 16, 2006

Close encounter with a foreign HGV

Hippo’s had only one response so far to his questionnaire, and is not a happy hippo. He’s been furiously scribbling away; so brace yourselves for some tetchiness later in the day. Better still: humour him with a comment or two.

Anyway, here’s something completely different to be getting on with. One can’t allow these tiresome pedagogues to dictate the agenda ….

There was an item on the news two nights ago about the hazard created by foreign HGVs on British roads. It’s to do with their left hand drive, and poorly mounted wing mirrors.
See related story on BBC London by Sarah Harris.

Presumably there’s potential for UK trucks to create similar havoc on Continental roads, but that didn’t get a mention !

Watching this news item, there was much grim-faced nodding in the Berry household, as we listened to one lucky-to-be-alive front-seat passenger relate his experience. You see, we had a similar, though less serious, experience on the M25, some two and a half years ago. And here are the photographs to prove it !

The motorway had been busy, with all three lanes occupied, and we were essentially trapped in the middle lane (not hogging it). Our speed differential brought us level with the juggernaut, and we then gradually moved broadside - always an unenviable position in which to find oneself.

My wife spotted it first. The truck was drifting over into our lane, with the gap closing rapidly. What does one do in such a situation ? Sounding the horn is useless on a motorway, we are told. Brake hard, and you risk a rear end collision. Swing into the fast lane, and the possible consequences don’t bear with thinking about.
In the event, I flashed the headlights furiously, feathered the brake pedal ever so lightly just enough to flash the brake lights, and then braked progressively, as hard as I dared. All this was done in less than a second or two , but it seemed much longer, especially to poor Mrs.B in the front passenger seat.

We were very lucky. The truck took off our wing mirror, but spared the bodywork and, more important, Mrs.B. We were spared the fate of the guy on the TV – his vehicle had been bodily shunted into the fast lane. The driver and passenger were both very lucky to be uninjured.

But I was one very unhappy bunny. It should not have happened, and there was the small matter of insurance. It was a rental car, and we had opted for a budget deal, where one pays the first £600 of damage. We were later to have that sum deducted by Avis from our credit card while the repair work was done, and the bill decided.

Meanwhile, back on the M25, red-mist hippo briefly intervened, and I found myself, automaton-like, pursuing the truck in the slow lane, flashing my headlights, and gesticulating at the driver to stop. Finally, he had to slow for a tailback, and deigned to pull over to find what all the fuss was about.

As you see from the photographs, it was a Czech lorry, and the driver’s English was limited , though not as limited as my Czech. Anyway, he had some standard paperwork for dealing with such mishaps, and I had made sure he could see I had photographs of his vehicle and its registration.
The picture at the top shows the lorry driver, with our car and Mrs B in the background.

The bill when it came wasn’t as bad as we feared. But when Avis tried reclaiming off the haulage company, on our behalf, their letters went unanswered.

We just feel lucky to be still in one piece, or spared a much bigger bill. But there are two points I would make. First, if it had been my own vehicle, I like to think I would have instinctively hit the hazard warning lights, to alert following vehicles to our predicament, and make harsh braking or sudden lane-changing an option. But I was in a strange vehicle, and hadn’t made a mental note of the location of that red triangle button. I will, next time.

Second, experiences such as ours are becoming more frequent, we are told. That being the case, it should not be possible for foreign companies, least of all fellow EU members, to dodge the consequences of their drivers’ actions by failing to respond to correspondence.

If someone fails to file a tax return on time, there’s an automatic fine, at least in the UK. One feels there ought to be something similar at EU level for companies or private citizens who try to evade their legal obligations.
It’s all too easy for them to drag their heels in the sure knowledge that if it’s a minor incident, claimants will grow weary and let the matter drop. We did.

No comments: