Let’s find an exit strategy for bad drivers

Asphalt civility has become another bit of road kill on the freeway to urban nirvana

Doug FirbyCALGARY, AB, Jul 3, 2014/ Troy Media/ – Over the summer holidays, Canadians hit the road – exploring our country from sea to sea. This can be a very scary thing.

Some people, it seems, get a bad case of “holiday brain” when they get behind the wheel of a car. This past July 1, I witnessed some of the worst driving by Canadians I’ve ever seen. One of them was the young woman driving behind my wife and me as we headed to our Rocky Mountain Canada Day celebration.

Clipping along toward the mountain town of Canmore, Alta., I had to slow down quickly because of a traffic jam on the Trans-Canada ahead. In my rear view mirror, I saw a little blue Volkswagen bearing down on me at frightening speed. At the last minute, the driver spotted me, jammed on the brakes and narrowly avoided a crash.

As I had watched this potential wreck unfold in my mirror, it became obvious that the driver was talking on her cellphone. Even the near-collision distracted her from her call for only a few seconds; once she was stopped, she was back chatting. And, as we exited the highway and crept into town, to my amazement I saw that she continued to chat on the phone, and then used her free hand to apply eye make-up, which she did by looking in her own rear view mirror.

Alert readers will wonder how she managed to steer with both hands occupied. The short answer is, I don’t know.

No doubt, this is a particularly egregious example of distracted driving. But, sadly, not an anomaly. Although fatality rates have steadily fallen over the past 20 years, drivers in certain parts of Canada have gotten worse – way worse.

A recent online poll by Angus Reid reports that nine out of 10 respondents say they have seen someone talking on a cell phone while driving. Albertans tend to multi-task and run red lights more often than drivers in other provinces, the survey found.

But, it turns out, while Alberta does have bad drivers, it is not statistically the worst. It ranks fourth worst, according to Transport Canada figures, with 12.8 deaths per 100,000 licensed drivers. Northwest Territories has 20.5 fatalities with 100,000 licensed drivers, Saskatchewan is second worst with 21.2 per and Yukon is worst with 27.6 per 100,000 licensed drivers.

The safest province? Anyone living in the Greater Toronto Area might be surprised to learn Ontario is overall the safest, at least on a per-driver basis. Thankfully, driving in the rest of the province is unlike the GTA commute.

And what of Quebec? If you’ve driven in Montreal, you might expect that province to fare poorly, as well. But, in fact, their fatality rate is also quite low.

Automotive technology can take some of the credit for the declining death rate. The way cars crumple now means that fewer of us are likely to get seriously injured or killed in a collision. It has to be the improved technology, because it sure as heck isn’t the drivers.

It seems the gradual decline in driving quality follows a parallel with a similar erosion in civil society. People are ruder on the transit, in queues, at Tim Horton’s and at sporting events. Should we be surprised that they behave the same way behind the wheel? When was the last time someone actually slowed down in reaction to you signalling that you’d like to enter their lane? These days, a signal seems to serve as an invitation to speed up and block your path.

How different from the first time I drove in Alberta nearly 40 years ago, when drivers would pull onto the shoulder of a country road to let you pass (a practice since outlawed). I don’t recall drivers using the mirror to apply make-up either back then.

Asphalt civility? It appears that it’s become another bit of road kill on the freeway to urban nirvana. Somebody show me the way to the next exit.

Doug Firby is Editor-in-Chief and National Affairs columnist for Troy Media.

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