As I type this, I’m hearing cars toot their horns at midday on New Year’s Day. I guess they’re excited about 2010 because they’re tooting familiar chants. Perhaps they’re just on their way home from their night out, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were drunk. Like anywhere in the world, the French Alps has its fair share of idiot drivers who take to the roads and put other people’s lives at risk. When I lived in the Meribel valley many years ago, the local police would stop suspicious cars and tell the driver to get out and leave their car there. I never heard of anyone charged with drinking and driving, but I did hear of the ‘second gear’ rule, where, if drunk, you simply stay in second gear, which slows the car down to be a bit more in sync with the drunk driver’s reflexes and according to those drivers, will prevent an accident or at least minimise any damage.
Meanwhile, in La Clusaz, word gets around in the pubs if the police are stopping cars leaving town. Those who have lost their license can still buy a little two-stroke car that sounds like a lawn mover and goes at about the same speed. These cars, an old but popular model here pictured, need no license to drive! When you see these cars on the road, you know you want to be as far away from the driver as possible. The drivers could be drunk and may have bought the car because they lost their license for that reason. On top of that, they’re likely to cause accidents when they’re pushing their car to the limit of 45km/h in a 90 zone. They certainly cause traffic build-ups. But I digress. Last winter, a drunk driver in La Clusaz stopped to pick up three hitchhikers. Hitching is common in all age groups here because the buses seem to stop as soon as the sun goes down. And so, these three hitchhikers were school kids. The guy driving didn’t notice a huge bend in the road and drove straight into a tree down an embankment at high speed. He survived. The three kids did not. The loss of three local kids spun the locals into action. There was talk of some sort of car pooling last summer, but I don’t know if that ever took off. I did notice, however, that St Jean De Sixt declared ‘Operation Red Nose’ on New Year’s Eve, offering a lift home to anyone who called the central number. Volunteers drove (hopefully not in the lawnmower cars), and hopefully made the roads a bit safer for everyone.
Happy New Year. May it be safer than some of the roads around here.