Law Abiding Citizen

It’s your usual drive home. The daily commute. You’re remaining patient in traffic: maintaining a safe stopping distance from the vehicles ahead of you, sticking to your lane, not even tempted by bus lanes along the way (like some other chancers). As you slow to a halt at a red light, you take a moment to look in your wing and rear-view mirrors. It’s standard observation for cars, cyclists, and pedestrians, but something else stands out. GARDA. You notice the unmistakable details of a squad car two vehicles behind you. Immediately, you feel tense and more alert. The lights turn green and as traffic begins to move, you ease through the junction. Instead of continuing straight ahead as you have, both cars behind you take the left turn at the junction. Next time you check the rear-view mirror, the squad car is behind you.

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” you say to yourself.

Only those words fail to convince you – after all, you’re a little biased. You find yourself thinking back over every detail of your journey to this point. This leads to an unsettling realisation as you ask yourself: “How did I actually get to here?” You cannot remember and the harder you attempt to recall your journey, fewer details return. In all of this tangential thought, you notice that you’re about 5 km/h over the speed limit. With a Garda car right behind you. In haste, you raise your foot off the accelerator altogether, dropping about 5 km/h below the limit before gently lowering your foot again, maintaining speed at the limit this time. The squad car remains behind you. You wonder if they even noticed your erratic change in speed. “Erratic…” you repeat to yourself with some concern. Are they assessing you as a danger to the public or might they understand that you’re being overly cautious as a result of their presence?

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” you say to yourself, allowing for the minor exception of breaking the speed limit with a Garda car travelling behind you as a witness.

Continuing on your way, opportunities for the Guards to change direction come and go, but the squad car remains behind you. You give up on the notion that it is purely coincidental and begin to practice lines that you might use when the Guards tire of trailing you and inevitably decide to pull you over. You consider the possible crimes you may have committed and begin to prepare statements for each scenario in your head:

Did you cut through a red light earlier? “Not at all; at worst, I anticipated the sequence.”

Were you swerving the car? “By no means intentionally, there’s a fierce gust about today.”

Did you get a little too close to that cyclist? “Far from it! If anything, I believe that cyclist was using the slipstream of my car for their own momentum.”

None of these things really happened on your journey, you pause to remind yourself. If they had, you’d certainly remember. If anything, that you don’t remember any incident points to the fact that nothing of incident has occurred. If it had, the squad car would have pulled you over by now. Sure enough, you reach this epiphany at the same time that the squad car moves into a right-turning lane behind you, disappearing from your rear-view mirror as they turn off.

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” you say to yourself, breathing a sigh of relief.

However, your sense of relief is short-lived. A queue of traffic that you are merging with leads to nothing other than a Garda checkpoint. In the slow, lurching queue, questions fly around in your mind as you sit nervously awaiting inspection. Maybe it’s only a checkpoint, or maybe the Guards are waiting to catch you? Maybe the squad car that was behind you only left you once they were certain that you were bound for this very checkpoint? Coincidence? Are your tax and NCT discs valid? Insurance up to date? What if one of the tail lights is broken? What if your indicators aren’t working? What if the tyres are bald? You don’t even know what thread depth is and today is the day you pay for bluffing it. Are they checking your plates? You bought your car second-hand – what if it was stolen? Have you let anyone else use the car? You didn’t check the car before you started driving. What if someone left something in the boot? What if it’s a suspicious device? What if there’s a box of guns in the boot? Or pack upon pack of drugs? You don’t even know, do you?

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” you say to yourself, pleading with the universe for it to be true.

The car ahead of you moves beyond the checkpoint. You’re next. You lower your door-window as you ease forward. The Garda raises his hand for you to stop. You press the brakes. You swallow, a great gulp of nerves in the back of your throat, pulse quickening and hands trembling on the steering wheel. The Garda looks directly at you, gives a once over of the car, and looks back to you, with a hand signal for you to move on. For some reason, you stare at the Garda, a puzzled expression on your face. Again, the Garda signals for you to move, adding “On you go, now, thank you” as he does so. You relax the clutch, allowing the car to roll forward. As you move, you offer a grateful wave to the Garda which goes unseen as he is already inspecting the next vehicle in the queue.

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” you say to yourself, moving clear of the checkpoint. As soon as the checkpoint disappears from your rear-view mirror, you relax once more, only with a little more certainty this time. You think; “Sure what are the odds of meeting a second checkpoint or garda car?” Some day, the Guards might catch you. But not today… oh no, they won’t catch you today… Because they have absolutely no reason to suspect you of anything, Law-Abiding Citizen. Absolutely no reason at all.