Remember when there were almost no cars on the roads? It was eerie, perhaps the most graphic reminder of the pandemic, and there were so few vehicles police could have pulled each one over to check that the driver had a valid reason for being out and about. Less than a year later traffic is worse than ever. Often now we don't get through the lights until the second green, and the Adamstown railway gates, that great reminder that Newcastle is still a safe Labor seat, are queuing vehicles so far the end is often out of sight.
But there is worse: The traffic is slower. The more traffic the slower it moves, possibly because the inconsiderate crawlers are now at the head of a longer jam of vehicles, but even without congestion cars and vans and trucks seem to be dawdling along at a good 5km/h under the usual pace.
Even taxis are slow these days, so slow and hesitant they're a road hazard. Sometimes I wonder if taxis are going so far under the speed limit to create a point of difference with Uber, offering a floating experience to their customers instead of the expeditious trip taxis promised us for so long. You might as well catch a bus now.
And hoons have either grown up or lost their licence. For decades, perhaps forever, hoons have travelled in pairs, the senior hoon roaring up the inside and cutting in and out of lanes while the junior hoon did his best to mirror those moves a few metres behind. When you do see a hoon now there's only one of them.
So what's going on?
We've always had an old biddy tootling along and putting the world caught behind her into slow motion, but there seem to be fewer old biddies on the road now. Perhaps they're still in COVID lockdown, and we should encourage that. It would be fairer to blame their daughters and granddaughters, old biddies in training, for the new sluggishness because they are responsible for the huge spike in traffic choking the city and suburbs and the economy at 9am and 3pm on school days. Pre-COVID there was always a traffic spike at these times but that pales in comparison to the explosion in road-clogging vehicle numbers now.
The reason is that mothers don't want their children travelling on public transport, lest they be at higher risk of COVID , and that many more mothers are working at home because of COVID . I'll bet they don't clock off for the hour driving kids to and from school.
The more traffic the slower it moves, possibly because the inconsiderate crawlers are now at the head of a longer jam of vehicles, but even without congestion cars and vans and trucks seem to be dawdling along at a good 5km/h under the usual pace.
While we can and we should blame women for clogging our roads at 9 and 3, we can't pin the new slowness on them alone. In fact, one of the irrationalities that afflict women drivers is that they go flat out in a straight line and crawl around the slightest bend, so on a straight road I'm always happy to drive behind a woman. If she's not wearing a hat. And if there are no roundabouts.
Stopping unnecessarily at roundabouts would have to be the most dangerous peculiarity of women, causing more rear-end collisions than any other common driving idiocy. Of course they're never at fault.
As I have explained many times to my wife, the sensible fellow behind her as they approach a roundabout is looking to see that there is no other vehicle on the roundabout, that he fairly assumes she will have done the same thing and proceed through the roundabout without stopping. Roundabouts, I explain slowly, are there so drivers don't need to stop unnecessarily, so that the traffic can flow with minimal interruption.
I'd like to be able to report an improvement in roundabout competency in my particular case and in general but, sadly, I cannot. And that is despite my practice of requiring my wife to promise not to stop unnecessarily at roundabouts before I accompany her anywhere as a passenger.
The problem, of course, is that women drivers have no idea of what's happening behind them. If they look into the rear-vision mirror it's not to check the chaos behind.
A common example of that is the woman who pulls halfway into the driveway of the service station and stops while she peruses the bowsers, bringing to a sudden halt all the vehicles in the lane behind her. Another is that they will refuse to drive around a reverse-parking vehicle until it has straightened and the ignition is turned off.
Then they wonder why men, and probably other women, won't give them room to move into the lane ahead of them.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could project our voice into a neighbouring vehicle, to say "no cars on the roundabout so no need to stop" or "we could go about our day if you drove all the way into the service station" or "you can safely drive around the parking car now". Still, a toot or something a little louder and longer is satisfying.
As I wrote earlier, women drivers have much to answer for but the new slowness is not one of them. I drove to and from Sydney one day this week and the M1 was a conga line of vehicles travelling at well under the 110km/h limit, and most of the drivers were men. I know that because I checked as I passed, and I passed hundreds of them because I set cruise control at 110km/h.
Men have emerged from COVID as soft, plump and pasty and their driving reflects that. Man up and put your foot down, fellas.
Jeff Corbett contributes regular opinion columns to the pages of the Newcastle Herald
IN THE NEWS: