Drivers Beware… Let’s communicate!

I been yelled at by several drivers this week.

The Traffic Circle

The first incident was my fault.  I had a screaming child in the back seat and was trying to pay attention, but honestly I entered a traffic circle without watching as closely as I should have.  There was no risk of collision (unless the other driver slammed on the gas) but nevertheless I was in the wrong.  I waved an apology to him, and that was it.  He honked at me again in lieu I suppose of calling me an idiot, and he drove off.

Turning Right on Red

Having learned to drive in Montreal we were never allowed to turn right on a red light.  We always thought it was silly, and a lot of people criticized the Province of Quebec for this law until finally a few years ago it was determined that cars could turn right… anywhere except on the Island of Montreal.  So be it, I never cared that much to get involved.

That is, I never cared until I moved to Ontario, where it seems that drivers turning right believe that they have the right of way over oncoming traffic.  Where is it written that a car travelling straight through a green light at 70 km/h has to slam on the brakes to give the right of way to a car turning through a red light?  Nonetheless that seems to be the way it works… cars turning right creep into the intersection to peek at oncoming traffic, and then seeing as he (or she) judges that they can sneak in (as long as the oncoming car is paying attention and brakes) without causing an accident.

Frankly it is just as disconcerting to see a car turning right into the right lane when I am traveling in the next lane over, and it is something that I never do.  Moving traffic?  I stop.  Do you know why?  Because that is the law.  Nonetheless I have been yelled at (and given the the digital aviary salute) by no fewer than three drivers this week for honking as I slammed on the brakes.

My fifteen year old son understands that Red means STOP.  In fact my three year old son also understands the same thing.  The right to turn right on a red light is only in the case where there is absolutely no oncoming (or pedestrian) traffic.  Period.  In fact, according the Ontario Ministry of Transportation:

Unless a sign tells you not to, you may make a right turn facing a red light as long as you first come to a complete stop and wait until the way is clear. Remember to signal your turn and yield to pedestrians and others using the road.

http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/dandv/driver/handbook/section2.6.3.shtml

This is not ambiguous text… and yet I have been yelled at numerous times this week for honking at people blatantly ignoring this law.

Stopping for Emergency Vehicles

Thursday afternoon I was driving south along Winston Churchill Boulevard in Mississauga.  The traffic was moving at about 80 km/h, which is to say that it was flowing smoothly.  When a police car’s sirens blared out I searched my mirrors and discovered him coming up in the left lane.  I was in the right lane, and his way was perfectly clear.

I want to point out that the following situation is slightly more ambiguous based on a few factors.  The wording of the regulation in the Driver’s Handbook is as follows:

Reacting to an approaching emergency vehicle – WHAT TO DO
On a two-lane road

Signal and move to the right. Pull as close as possible to the right edge of the road, clear of any intersection, and stop.

http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/topics/emergency.shtml

The wording leaves very little to interpretation, right?  Except for the fact that in the vast majority of cases cars do not stop – they pull over if they are in the way or allow cars that might be in the way to merge, but stop? Seldom.  On this particular Thursday afternoon the precise number of vehicles that did stop in the right lane was… one.  It was the SUV right in front of me, and the driver pulled over and slammed on her brakes just as the police car passed her.

We won’t discuss the axiomatic though unwritten word that must be implied in every situation… safely.

While braking in the middle of your lane can end very badly, on this day luck was with us.  Because I was watching my mirror to keep one eye on the police car, I knew that the SUV that was right behind me was right behind me.  I also knew that there were no cars directly behind the police car.  I made the split second decision to swerve around the braking SUV rather than trusting that the driver in the SUV behind me was as aware of her surroundings as I was. 

Know what happened?

NOTHING.  There was no screeching of tires, there was no crunching of metal.  My ‘swerve’ was not close – I cleared the braking SUV by 15 feet and there was at no point any danger of an accident.  The SUV behind me followed suit, and everything was good.

…and then it started.  The SUV that had braked sat on her horn and took off after me.  She pulled up next to me and started yelling and screaming at me (did I mention it was 37°C outside and I had my air conditioner on and my windows rolled up?) about… I don’t know what for sure, but let’s assume that it was about the incident described.  I kept my eyes on the road and ignored her.

Had there not been a red light up ahead that would have been the end of it… but sure enough there was, and the SUV pulled up next to me, yelling again.  This time I lowered my window and sure enough she was yelling at me about pulling over for emergency vehicles.

Wow.

Keeping in mind a recent incident of road rage in which I was forced to defend myself against a physical attack (See article) I opted to stay calm, stay in my car, and subject myself to the yelling/ranting.  My wife would have been proud of me (if a little shocked). 

Inter-Vehicular Communications

Our cars have horns, and while there is a faction that believes they are just for decoration I am not in that camp.  I believe there are five (5) acceptable ways to ‘communicate with other drivers:

1) The Short Honk

There are several reasons for the short (or double-short) honk… the one that comes to mind is when the guy in front of you at a red light seems to not be paying attention, and does not start driving when the light turns green.  It is not disrespectful, it is like tapping the guy in line in front of you.

2) The Long Honk

You are in your lane and someone starts merging into your lane… and it’s going to be close.  Honk!  You are driving straight and an oncoming car is about to turn left into you… HONK!  The list goes on.  However despite the name, the honk should not exceed two seconds.  If it might be mistaken for a Persistent Honk then you are really just calling the other guy an idiot and challenging him to a duel.

3) The Persistent Honk

DANGER! There is a car that is all over the road!  The driver is either drunk, asleep, or has had a heart attack.  Whatever the case may be, he (or she) is a clear and present danger to himself and other cars or pedestrians.  The Persistent Honk may serve to wake the other driver up, snap him out of his reverie, or warn everyone around you that there is a danger that they need to be aware of.  If you are lucky the Persistent Honk will attract the police, who will appreciate your concern.

4) Flashing your high-beams

There are several reasons for flashing your high-beams (‘brights’) at another car.  If you are in the passing lane and the car in front of you is taking its time then a respectful flash will let them know that you are hoping to pass, and they will (okay, should) merge right to allow you to pass.  If an oncoming car has its high-beams on then a respectful flash will let them know to disengage them. 

There was a time when flashing one’s regular lights was an appropriate way to signal an oncoming driver who was driving without his/her lights on, but in most modern vehicles the lights go on automatically, so flashing your high-beams has become the de-facto replacement of that signal.

I have adopted another use for the high-beams.  One long flash (½ second) followed by two short flashes (¼second) is my way of telling another driver that they are a tool.  I am not sure most of them understand it, because more often than not I use it when someone has proven they do not seem to know the rules of the road… or subtlety.

4) The Digital Aviary Salute

If you really want to give it to a driver… they have pissed you off to no end and you really want to give them a piece of your mind, give them something better… give them a finger.  Yes, flash them ‘the bird’ as it is often called.  It usually makes you feel better, and if you are lucky enough for the other driver to see it they will understand the meaning.  They might even return the salute.

Conclusion

My wife calls people names when she is driving and unhappy with other drivers.  I once asked her if she thought they heard or understood, and she said ‘I hope not… it just makes me feel better.’  That makes perfect sense to me.  Yelling at another driver expecting that they will either hear you or be capable of reading your lips is just silly, not to mention provocative… words too often lead to escalation.

Road Rage has become an increasingly dangerous activity – both for those raging and for those raged on.  The only positive outcome of road rage is a de-escalation.  Yelling at the other drivers, aside from the possible consequences, usually just serves to make you look like a raging lunatic.  I know… I used to do it all the time 🙂

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