Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rules of the road

I am what you might call a compulsive rule follower. I follow the rules both because I think it's important to go about things the right way (and not only to arrive at the right result), but also because I recognize how much tragedy could be avoided if we all followed the rules. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not perfect at it - I too break certain rules in hypocritical fits of selectivity. For instance, I seldom keep the speed limit (I usually maintain my pace at about 10 km/h in excess of it). But even so, I recognize that in most cases these failures are due to my own weakness. Rules do not exist merely to be broken (though humans from the time they are born quickly learn that they can be).

I bring this up because one of my pet peeves is disregard for the rules of the road. Now I realize that Ontario is already quite excellent in this regard - driving in Quebec is much more intimidating, and I've heard that traffic in China is chaos - yet it is far from perfect. Some things annoy me, but I forgive the perpetrators because... well, everyone does them. This has dual implications. Firstly, most people accept these actions as the norm, and so don't have any malicious intent when they break the rule. Secondly, if I despised every rule breaker... I probably wouldn't have any friends (or family).

What sorts of offenses can be overlooked (though they are still suboptimal)? The most glaring transgression is taking two lanes in a left turn. When making a left turn, you are supposed to turn into the leftmost lane. If you desire to be in the rightmost lane, you should subsequently change lanes (that's what they teach you at driving school). Making your left turn into the rightmost lane is both incorrect and can be hazardous (both to oncoming traffic and to those who are making their turns correctly). At certain intersections police will actually snag offenders, but this is about as rare as a blue moon.

I'd like to note that this minor offense can quickly become unforgivable. For instance, when I make a left turn, the car behind me will often swing (incorrectly) into the rightmost lane and then accelerate so as to try block my own lane change into the right lane. This is essentially trying to supersede the original order of traffic through inappropriate turning.

More serious offenses are rather more obvious, and most people recognize that these are wrong (and dangerous), though that seldom stops them from taking action. These include high risk behaviours such as tailgating (setting yourself up for a rear-end collision in an emergency), lack of signalling (improper communication, which can lead to collisions as people can't anticipate your moves), cutting off people who do communicate properly (which people use as an excuse for tailgating), and rolling stops (often an attempt to ignore right of way).

But what really has me irked today are aggressive, impatient, and selfish driving habits that take advantage of the goodwill of fellow drivers. The first is compulsive lane changing. My sister once told me that studies have shown that lane changing does not actually make a trip faster - people switch into the faster lane and subsequently slow it down, then try to switch back. However, we all have seen the hyper-aggressive drivers slipping precariously from one lane to the other (usually without signalling) and watched as the distance between our car and theirs widened. Clearly, while changing lanes may serve to slow down traffic as a whole, the more impulsive and thickheaded persons are getting ahead.

Equally irksome, however (and the inspiration for this post) are the people who drive solo in the bus lane. Bus lanes in Toronto are dedicated lanes which (during rush hour) are dedicated to buses, taxis, bicycles, and cars with three or more occupants. The idea is to keep public transit moving smoothly (which in turn should encourage more people to bus it).

For the most part, people respect the rules and stick to the normal traffic lanes, meaning that even during rush hour the bus lane is quite empty. However, it's not uncommon to see cars taking advantage of the rule abiding actions of their peers by zipping down the bus lane as the single occupant in their vehicle. It infuriates me to no end watching as these pricks advance where they should not.

What does this demonstrate? The best way to affect driving habits is through education and attitude adjustment. Barring that, regulations are the next logical step. However, rules without adequate enforcement are worthless - leaving law abiding folk disadvantaged and bitter.


Michael said...


This post is awesome because I do most of the stuff you hate :D

Not only do I do the two-lane left handed turn, I also make left-handed U-turns if I find out I'm going the wrong way. :D

I agree people who try to accelerate from the right (same with people who go on the right-most lane for parking/buses and zoom past you during a stoplight and then cut you off) are douches, but how I deal with them (it's pretty easy to tell when they want to do that, and I had a pretty fast car in Vancouver) is slam the pedal same time they do. Even if we both accelerate at the same speed, they always have to give right of way since they're turning, so it defeats the purpose of that anyways. To be honest if I go so fast to overtake them I purposely slow down to force them to get stuck. Kind of a douchy retribution for their douche-ness.

As for people who tailgate, I'm not really bothered by them since they will always get the short end of the stick, as they are guaranteed to be 100% at fault in an accident (best they could hope for is a dual fault). If someone's tailgating hard, I purposely pump the brakes to scare them a little.

Hmm, I do tend to roll stops simply because it is more efficient than the stop-start method (not because I ignore right of way or pedestrians or something)... trucks do it all the time (admittedly out of necessity), as well as doing a number of other things that would be 'dangerous' for any normal driver (like taking up 2 whole lanes to do a turn). Yet somehow we manage to all live in harmony with trucks, which also happen to be gigantic.

I can maybe answer some of the reasoning behind changing lanes. In my ideal world, the left lane should ONLY be used for going really fast and overtaking cars on the right lane (who are going super slow). Problem is, anytime a car has to make a left turn, it basically screws up things for everyone in the left lane. If you look at highways, you rarely see this kind of problem (in my experience), because there are enough lanes that the people who want to drive fast are able to do so (also, no left turns). Another issue is what I often see is two cars, one on each lane, going the EXACT SAME SPEED and either side-by-side (you're screwed) or leaving just a small enough gap for you to squeeze through (you then have to cut one of them off if you wanna pass them). Okay, there should be a fast lane and a slow lane, this isn't P.E. where the flow of traffic is based on who goes the slowest. Another analogy is to think of a road like a hallway. Know those cliques of girls that all amass and go at an agonizingly slow pace? You can either force yourself to walk slowly behind them or budge ahead so you can actually get somewhere!

And don't get me started on bus/HOV lanes (not really common in Vancouver, except if a big road is undergoing construction)... the simple fact of the matter is, ALL car drivers pay the taxes for all the road improvements (through fuel, general income, etc...). Is someone single or a couple somehow less deserving of getting somewhere compared to a family? Does the fact that you can afford a car with insurance, fuel, maintenance, etc. mean you aren't deserving of full road use?

I guess in the end, I just don't agree with a lot of road rules, because they're designed for maximal safety with minimal effort. I'd much prefer a more aggressive style of driving *ALONG* with a much more difficult exam including retakes every 3-5 years. If your reflexes can't handle it anymore, maybe you shouldn't be on the road slowing down everyone else. (Hey, that doesn't sound so mean in the context of narcotic drug use, why is that mean in the context of timid, weak-ass drivers?)

And I don't shit you at all, all my friends are terrified of being in a car with me. Usually I start off with "Yeah I can give you a ride, and we'll...probably... make it there alive. Other than that I can't guarantee anything." =D

a_ndy said...

All I can say is... oh dear...

By the way, I don't really think roads are supposed to have fast lanes and slow lanes. The acceptable deviation from the speed limit is much smaller, and there are a lot more stops.