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We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Different provinces, different drivers

May 13, 2011

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, May 13, 2011
Driving to Quebec this summer? Be prepared for gridlock, lots of horn-honking and rude hand gestures.

There are differences in attitude and behaviour in every region of our country. Having driven in every region, here are some of my non-empirical observations.

Victoria and Vancouver Island drivers are overly polite. Put a turn signal on and the lane adjacent will part like the Red Sea. Drivers are going slower in most every way. If you are in a hurry, forget about turning your car into a time machine. The flow of traffic simply will not allow it.

Vancouver drivers are in a hurry and have been since birth. The polite drivers are harder to find than on the Island. Any place that has a radio station reporting all traffic, all the time, has to have a preoccupation with traffic jams and gridlock, all too often the case in the Lower Mainland.

Alberta drivers seem to drive faster than any other Canadian jurisdiction. They have among the highest provincial speed limits, and the best-maintained highway system in the country. They do some unique things to ease congestion. Traffic circles and roundabouts are well constructed and seem to keep traffic moving smoothly. Drivers will actually pull onto the paved shoulder of the road in order to allow a following driver more space to pass on a two-lane rural highway.

Prairie drivers are more laid back and seem to be in much less of a hurry. The forever flat terrain is likely to lull any driver into a false sense of security. The cities have a well-known capital infrastructure deficit. In Canada, where only eight cents of every tax dollar goes to civic governments, it has become impossible for some municipalities to keep pace with road repairs, let alone capital construction. Potholes are a big problem in most big Prairie cities. Slower traffic speeds seem to be more about not damaging the vehicle than anything else. I once saw a sinkhole in Winnipeg that defied description. The general courtesy of Saskatchewan and Manitoba drivers is noticeable to any visitor. “Friendly Manitoba” on every licence plate, pretty well sums it up.

Ontario is a whole different matter. From rural to urban, the difference in driving behaviour is so dramatic that any visitor would think they were in two different countries. The famous Highway 401 is an example of the “Indy 500” or geographic gridlock, depending on the time of day. Drivers are much less likely to give you a break than not. The sheer volume of traffic is what causes most road-rage incidents. The province has the most advanced highway system in the country. Enforcement of traffic law seems more judicious. Police visibility is high.

When it comes to driving, Quebec is a state of mind. Speed limits are treated as a “suggestion” by most drivers. Speeding ticket tolerance seems higher. A right turn on a red light is not permitted within the city of Montreal (my hometown). Bridges and tunnels are the big bottlenecks. The fact that Montreal is an island may have something to do with the gridlock. Hand gestures and horn honking seem to go together. The capital infrastructure deficit is noticeable.

Driving in the Atlantic provinces is a delight. Each province has its own unique characteristics. There is something about ocean scenery that slows people down. Aside from waiting at the border crossings and bridges, drivers are very content. The small-town rural attitude in Newfoundland/Labrador is noticeable. The same goes for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Unfortunately, I have never driven in P.E.I. or Cape Breton. My relatives and friends all say it is the best place to drive in the whole country. I have no reason to doubt their good judgment.

Rural and northern drivers seem to be more polite. City drivers are much less polite and often rude. It has to do with the “anonymity syndrome.” That will be the topic of a future column.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.
stevedwallace@shaw.ca
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