Archive for February, 2017

Surprised By Government Grace: 6 February

February 6, 2017

At the beginning of this year I drove without due care and attention and knocked a man off his motorcycle. He was taken to hospital by ambulance. In other circumstances, what I did could easily have killed him. I tried not to think about how I would live without my driving licence. 

My first reassurance came from the policewoman who attended the crash. She showed no anger or judgement against me, rather care and concern as she made sure everything happened from them on as it should. The injured man’s brother came, furious with me, and she kept him away. She kept coming to me, as I sat in my car, asking if I was OK. Eventually she explained that she was worried that I had my eyes shut. I was praying hard for the man. 

This kind government official took time to phone me a couple of days later. She wanted to reassure me that the man had been discharged from hospital the same day with bruising and some skin damage, nothing more. What a relief! I was, and am, deeply grateful that I live in a country where I had to do nothing to help repair the damage I had caused to this man because it was all taken care of by the government, the NHS. They didn’t even charge it to my insurance. (Maybe they should..?)

The policewoman also said she thought that I would be invited to go on a course rather than face a charge in court. This was great news but seemed to me unlikely, much less than I deserved. She said I would hear within a month. 

Two days later I received the official letter inviting me to register for a course instead of being charged. Another huge relief! The people at the busy government office, understaffed compared with a few years ago and catching up after the holiday period, had made and processed my decision immediately. I was spared even three weeks of wondering. 

I was given a choice of where and when to attend the course. Six of us bad drivers came to learn Driver Alertness. Again no hint of anger or judgement from the trainer. He was calm, respectful, and subtly talked about his own impatience with elements of ‘the system’ to assure us that he understood those of us narked by being there. He focused on the learning, with only a little mention of what we had done. We were keener to talk about our driving ‘incidents’ than he was, starting with waiting in the lobby for the course to begin. 

The trainer gave time and detail to explain a key factor in my crash. This, and him pairing me up with another man with a similar crash, makes me think he knew our crimes. They key factor is that, if we look far left and then far right, our brains fill in the middle without us actually seeing it. (This is true for multi-tasking women as well as for one-track men.) Because I was not looking at the road near me, only at the gap further away, my brain did not register that the motorcyclist was there, so I pulled out. This knowledge is a great relief. There is nothing seriously wrong with me. I suffer from a common human fault of which I need to be aware and to correct. I now look far left, middle left, near left etc. This takes practice but is not too difficult. 

The ‘classroom’ learning was well led, with an impeccable mixture of lecture, delivered sitting, individual and pair exercises. It brought out the complexities of responsibility for driving accidents and therefore the need for all to be alert. We were then paired up and taken on the road by a driving instructor in his car. Mine was a BMW Mini. I have now driven one! (Once is enough.) 

We each drove for about 20 minutes and then the instructor gave his comments. He too was calm, cheerful, making suggestions rather than giving orders. He overrode the instruction given when I first learnt to drive, to move smartly through the gears to 4th. With modern cars especially, it is better to drive at 30mph in 3rd. He said that I would do better not to wait until the last minute to brake for an obstruction ahead. The gentle way he said it made it easy for me to accept. My fellow criminal drove most of the time with one hand on the steering wheel. The instructor picked this up gently and clearly, not arguing when the man said he didn’t think it mattered, but calmly mentioning it again and again. After lunch we drove for longer. The instructor was quick to praise the good, especially the improved, driving. A very helpful day. 

The UK Government has said to me: ‘We’ll take care of the immediate human damage, and make sure you have insurance to take care of the vehicle and maybe longer term human damage.’ (My insurers, NFU Mutual, were also impeccably kind and efficient.) ‘We’re not going to throw the book at you, not this first time. We know people make mistakes driving, we’re with you in that. We don’t want you to feel terrible about your driving, we want you to understand human weakness. We want to help you to drive better.’ 

What an amazing attitude! It’s called grace. Like Jesus who shows care and concern for everyone, aware of the requirements of the Law, but more focused on helping people feel better about themselves. (Jesus knows that most of us, prodded by the devil, feel plenty guilty enough about what we have done.) Jesus who is with us in our guilt, to take care of the damage we have caused, to deal with our accuser, and to help us to live a better, less damaging, life. Jesus who offers us a choice: law or grace, like I was offered the choice of a criminal charge or a helpful course. It’s great news and seems at first too good to be true. .

If our government act, sometimes at least, according to grace, maybe the UK is closer to being a Christian country than I had thought?

Roger Harper

 

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