A year ago, during the last race of the season, I was given a penalty for speeding in the pit lane. It must have been marginal -- I'd checked the tachometer not far before the line that marked the start of the pit and paddock area. But my team didn't even consider protesting.
In the years since pit-lane speed limits became the norm, fewer crew members have been bowled over or hurt, and rarely have piles of tires refuelling rigs or tool kits been assaulted by moving vehicles. People are busy and vulnerable in the pit lane, and just about everyone in racing agrees that a strictly enforced speed limit is a good thing.
Perhaps that's why I find myself dazzled, and not in a good way, by the behaviour of some drivers in parking lots. They charge up and down the rows, lurch into parking stalls, and back out abruptly. What puzzles me, because I can't get into their heads, is why? Oh, I know it's out of arrogance, ignorance or both, but how is it that they don't seem aware of it themselves?
The excuse of being late doesn't wash. It's rarely an emergency or even an incident. It's something that happens to all of us, and often bad planning has played a part. We either learn from this and do better, or keep repeating the behaviour and getting angry with everyone else. Perhaps, every now and then, one of these rushed drivers is involved in a crisis, but it beggars belief that this is happening to so many people at the same time.
Everyone is going to have his or her own comfortable speed in a busy parking lot. I set mine at the point where, if anything happens -- such as someone backing out of a spot without looking, or a family stepping out from behind the protective cover of a parked van -- I can react without drama. This requires constant scanning, but that should be part of a driver's normal behaviour.
As an advanced driving instructor, I can't help but observe that most parking-lot speeders do not scan their surroundings at all, so technically they're ready for nothing. This means they're more prone to making sudden stops, and more likely to be blasting the horn as a result. No surprise that a large number of insurance claims come from parking-lot incidents.
When some drivers are ready for nothing, it means everyone else has to adjust to them. But driving on public roads involves being a member of society and, for it all to go well and traffic to flow, some teamwork is required. This kind of basic cooperation among drivers is what permits the Autobahn and other European main roads to function while carrying very high volumes of traffic. If you put that many vehicles on Canadian roads, there would be a month of gridlock before we figured out how to make it work.
Now, I don't want to suggest that dawdling is okay either, on roads or in parking lots. Someone trolling through a parking lot at less than walking pace, while a line of vehicles builds up astern, is also exhibiting bad manners. Any behaviour that unnecessarily aggravates large numbers of fellow drivers hardly qualifies as working well with others.
Teamwork and understanding means that everyone gives a little to keep the whole show going. It's just good manners and good sense, in the pit lane and elsewhere.
I plan to get through this season's last race penalty-free.
Alan Sidorov is an experienced automobile racer, product tester and freelance writer. You can reach him at www.spdt.ca