Is Beating The System A National Obsession?

Some people just refuse to follow the rules. Yes, there are people out there who, no matter what the potential consequences, insist on trying to beat the system. And I reckon it's becoming a national obsession.

For the last five or six years I've watched countless cars a day take an illegal right turn from a main road into our lane. It's a weird thing because I've lived here for more than 20 years but, whilst there have always been drivers who insist on turning in, it's only recently that this illegal right-turning has reached epidemic proportions.  I live on a narrow, winding lane where it's difficult to see oncoming traffic until it gets quite close. This, of course, is why there is a no-right-turn law in the first place but every day car driver after car driver takes the decision to do it anyway. You might assume that they are taking a short cut but, in fact, by queuing to take the turn, winding their way along the lane, waiting to take a turn left at the corner of the lane and then queuing to turn right into the traffic again they are probably adding time to their journeys. So why bother risking a ticking off from the local bobby? To avoid having to wait at traffic lights. That's why. You see, a few dozen yards beyond the junction with our lane is a traffic-lighted crossroads. And it seems that nothing pleases the modern motorist more than the chance to beat the system and avoid the lights, no matter what lengths they have to go to to achieve this.

Periodically (about three times a year, if I'm honest), the local constabulary send out a team to park in our lane and ticket all those who make that illegal right turn. They catch dozens of people in a couple of hours. It's really quite an entertainment. You should hear some of the excuses. Everything from "I've never done it before" and "I'm in a hurry" to the remarkable "My children are in the car!" and the even more mystifying "Well I do it every day!". The two most common excuses are, quite frankly, astonishing. "When did that come into force?" is one. And in case you're wondering I think it was about 30-odd years ago. And the other – "I didn't see the sign" is, to be honest, not a particularly helpful excuse because not only is there a very prominent sign at the bottom of the road, but there is another, even larger, sign 30 metres before that and it's  also written on the road in 5-foot high letters! If I'd just got caught I think the last thing I'd be using for a defence was that I was so distracted when I was driving that I'd failed to notice three huge warning signs … You can bet if it were a sign offering a 'short cut' they'd see it every time.

Of course, since the police patrol the area only occasionally, it's not much of a deterrent. Because it seems, while for some people obeying the rules is incentive enough, others need the likelihood of being caught before they'll even think twice about it. I've heard it said that it's human nature to try to beat the system. Except it's not. Not for everyone, at least. Of course, I do understand that there's this element of competition in all of us that encourages us to try to get the best out of a situation. But there's a huge difference between using the system to our advantage and cheating the system for our own gain. But it seems the norm nowadays to push to the very limits of what the rules allow, if not ignore them altogether. Take the concept of speed limits, and I think you'll see what I mean. The speed limit is there as the absolute upper limit of what is acceptable. So why, if they are intended to indicate a speed over which you absolutely must not exceed, do so many people use them as a guideline to the speed they should be driving? Because they have this urge to beat, or at least challenge, the system.

There's been a lot of furore in recent months over the rights and wrongs of parking fines. Now, while I do not condone any car park or land owner who employs heavies to intimidate errant parkers to hand over wads of cash in retribution for their mistake, I do have sympathy with the more reasonable ones. When you run a business and have to provide your employees and visitors parking spaces, and in many cases you have had to pay for them, the last thing you want is some foolish shopper/visitor/etc using your parking spaces for their own convenience. Many years ago I worked in an office in a busy part of town that stood right next door to a tax office. Several times a week someone going to a meeting at the tax office would park in one of our spaces. They were usually bewildered when they returned to find a polite notice on their windscreen informing them that we were sorry they were blocked in but, since they had used our space, we'd had no alternate but to do this and, should they come to our building, we'd be happy to let them out. It was very rare that they were embarrassed, more often they were annoyed that they'd been inconvenienced without ever realising the trouble they'd put anyone else to.  So when someone complains about parking fines and private clamping fees I don't always have that much sympathy. After all, if there's a sign warning you not to park on private land, or indicating how long you may park in a particular area and you choose to ignore it, you can hardly complain when you get issued with a ticket or have to pay a hefty fee to a clamper.

And this whole thing about trying to get out of parking tickets makes me uncomfortable. Okay, it's something we'd rather not have to pay and if the ticket was genuinely incorrectly given then it should be appealed, of course it should. But I can't help thinking that, in most instances, this is just part of the 'beat the system' mentality. We all know the rules. We all know the penalties if we break the rules. So why do we think we can get out of it? Do we think it's a challenge? Or, worse still, do we assume it's our right?

By now you might be thinking I have particular issue with motorists. But that's not the case. There are plenty of examples of non-driving related attempts to beat the system. I knew a chap once who kept his money in a number of building societies and bank accounts. Every week he would recount his latest adventure as he moved one chunk of money into different account in an attempt to get the best deal. He must have spent hours trawling around every bank and building society in town, comparing interest rates (you remember when your savings actually earned you interest?) only to have to change it all back the following week when the deals changed. I often wondered whether the amount he 'saved' by doing this might actually be offset by the amount of extra shoe leather he burned as he wandered from branch to branch.

And I once encountered a woman who, having moved from four counties away, reckoned she had refused to register as a voter. You see, she was trying to avoid paying what was then her community charge, or at least avoid paying it at the more expensive local rate.  She reasoned that, since she didn't use her local library, that she shouldn't have to pay a local tax. It really didn't make that much sense to me, particularly since she insisted on displaying, in her office and on her car, the political campaign poster of a candidate  for whom she was now unable to vote.

But the person that mystified me the most was the lad who worked, albeit briefly, in our office. As a very young man he had run up a large debt to his bank which he was quite willing to discuss with anyone within earshot. And at great length. And he was also willing, no actually desperate, to discuss why he had no real intention of paying it back. You see, it was not his fault. Yes, he'd borrowed more money than he could ever hope to pay back but that had not been his fault. No, that was the fault of the bank who had practically begged him to take it. His own part was of little importance. His logic: If they'd expected it back any time soon, then they shouldn't have let him have it in the first place. My logic: he'd used the system to get what he wanted but now it was time to give back, he had adopted a whole new set of principles. 

And it's a funny thing because, much of the time, the people who know how to work the system, or beat it, are the ones who will complain the loudest when they feel hard done to. But if you're not going to follow the rules, or even be reasonable about them, why should you expect anyone else to do so? And it you won't accept that your actions have an impact on those around you, why assume everyone else will? And that, my friends, is why rules are there – to prevent chaos.

Because everyone has a different and individual idea of what's acceptable and what's not. They say that everyone has a price. I don't agree. Doubtless there are some people out there (hopefully in a very tiny minority) who would sell their own grannies to beat a traffic light, but most of us aren't like that. Rather than having a price for which we would do anything, I  believe most of us have a line over which we will not step. No matter what. Everybody has something they absolutely will not do. The trouble is that everyone's line is in a different place. While you may not feel bad about making that inconvenient illegal right turn, I feel pretty guilty if I cross a road within 50 metres of a crossing. And that is why we have rules. Because without them we'd be pretty confused as to what was okay to do. And, if we follow only the rules we like. The ones that benefit us. That don't inconvenience us. Then, before long, the only thing that rules is chaos.