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We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Canadian traffic rules mystify visitors

July 24, 2013

It's well known internationally that Canadians don't have a clue how to behave in roundabouts, says Steve Wallace.  Photograph by: ADRIAN LAM, Times Colonist

It’s well known internationally that Canadians don’t have a clue how to behave in roundabouts, says Steve Wallace. Photograph by: ADRIAN LAM, Times Colonist

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, July 11th 2013

To see ourselves drive as others see us can be an eye-opener.

Canadian drivers are absolutely abysmal at negotiating roundabouts, Albertans being the exception.

Many will stop before entering a circle, which defeats the purpose of keeping the traffic moving in a constant flow. Visiting Europeans think we are crazy. We very seldom do the proper turn signal required only when leaving a roundabout.

Many local drivers improperly signal before and during their roundabout folly. Signals within the roundabout should only be done to indicate a lane change. The driver closest to the center of the multi-lane roundabout has the right-of-way.

Drivers from all over the civilized world know how to behave in roundabouts, and it’s common knowledge internationally that Canadians, with few exceptions, do not have a clue.

Playground and school zones are a complete mystery to anyone from outside of Canada and sadly, many locals as well. Foreigners have no idea when these speed-limit zones apply. Would it be asking too much to have the times posted and the days displayed to tell visitors when these zones are in effect? (Roughly dawn to dusk for speed-posted playgrounds and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on school days in school zones.)

When relatives from abroad ask people from B.C. where the play and school zones end, they get a ridiculous answer. The zones end when the driver passes the designated sign on the opposite side of the road, facing the other way, meant to warn oncoming drivers of the speed zone. It seems odd to any outsider that they should figure out the proper speed in an area designed to protect children by looking at a blank regulatory sign that is impossible to read on the other side of the road.

Truck-traffic rules in most of Canada tend to mystify anyone from a European jurisdiction. The fact that big rigs can travel in the passing lane or in any lane other than the immediate curb lane is different, indeed. There is no distinction in Canada between loaded and unloaded semi-trailer-lane positioning. To many such visitors, it may seem like a free-for-all at first glance.

Other countries that have universal traffic codes cannot understand the differences in traffic rules from one province to another. A right or left turn from a solid-red traffic light is permitted under certain conditions in B.C., but not on the Island of Montreal, although a right turn on red is allowed in the rest of Quebec. Saskatchewan only allows a left on red from a one-way to a one-way street.

Canadian traffic culture is seen as reactive, not proactive, by other developed countries. It seems as though we have to witness a death or serious injury requiring hospitalization before we take definitive action to correct the unsafe intersection, curve in the road or uniquely dangerous circumstance. Our solution to most problems seems to involve erecting another sign or traffic light to stop traffic. We have far too many stop signs where a simple yield sign would do just fine. We lack creativity and are known to ignore best practices around the world. In France, for instance, portable emergency-ward trauma centres are set up at various known high-crash sites throughout the country. They serve as a grim reminder of the dangers of vehicular travel and are positioned closest to where they will be needed. Foreigners wonder why we do not do the same.

When we pause to see ourselves as others see us, surely we can do a better job of traffic engineering, resource allocation and regulatory common sense.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former Western Canadian V.P. of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas.Steve is a registered B.C. teacher with a degree from the University of Manitoba.

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