Thursday, April 27, 2006

Nobody in this City can Drive

Fredericton has some of the worst drivers in the country. I believe that I recall a study at some point that indicated as much in regards to the Maritimes in general, but not Fredericton specifically, so in this, I speak only from my own experience. Any drive I take in or around this city is generally characterized by three successive emotional states. First, an inevitable outburst of anger, at whatever driving offense I happen to see first among the innumerable many occurring in this city at all times. After a frothing, barely sensical tirade that no one else is thankfully around to hear, I enter a state of quiet disbelief, muted by a throat screamed raw. Finally, after several such instances in quick succession, I enter a state of jaded acceptance. Much like in the episode of the Simpsons where Marge becomes a cop and takes a depressed walk through Springfield, internally reciting a grim litany of crimes she observes ("Man parked across three handicap spaces"), I silently take note of each further offense, slowly becoming more jade statue than man.

A car with no lights on.

A van tailgating me so closely that I fear the next stop sign.

A tractor-trailer passing on a double yellow, on a road it's not supposed to be using.

A motorcycle almost run into by a motorist who doesn't notice anything smaller than a car.

A sport-utility vehicle idling at a green light while the driver talks on a cell phone or applies their make-up.

A truck trying to turn left across a busy street during rush hour, while a dozen more cars planning to turn right wait behind it.

A full line of ten vehicles waiting to turn left at a set of traffic lights, none of them with their turn signals on, and the front one a full car length in front of the stop line.

And the one unifying theme behind all of these offenses is that the driver is either completely ignorant or completely unapologetic. Or both.

As I witness all of this, I am forced to turn my examination inward, because I am far from entirely innocent in this. I'd like to think I'm a pretty good driver, but we all make mistakes. Am I this city's best driver? Certainly not, but sometimes it seems as if anyone with opposable thumbs could have a reasonable shot at the title. When I cut that guy off that I was late in seeing, do I feel embarrassed and appropriately apologetic, or do I suddenly feel irrationally angry, as if that anger will cover my guilt? And if other people are in my car, do I hope that my bluster will somehow convince them of my innocence as well? Or do I instead merely shrug it off for the benefit of my audience and pretend as if it was all part of the plan? Well, it depends on my mood, I guess, and the situation. So I am not without fault, and not immune to the irrational desire to pass the buck, or to feign ignorance. So, does that mean I should put myself in others' shoes and forgive the myriad offenses I see every time I get behind the wheel? Hell no.

You see, I may make the occasional error, but, as the term I chose implies, they are occasional, and they are errors. If the guy who I just cut off is pissed off, he damn well has a right to be, because I was in error. Should he blast his horn at me? Hell yes. When you're driving, mistakes can be a matter of life and death, and everyone could use an occasional reminder of that gravity. I wish I myself would lay on the horn more often, but that hand-to-horn reflex just isn't there, and doing it after the fact isn't quite the same. Bad driving seems to be an epidemic in this city, and no one seems to care. Through my own experiences, and through conversations with other people, I have concluded that there are four primary causes of bad driving: lack of skill, ignorance, laziness (the most grievous of all), and, finally, impatience. Lord help you if you run into someone exhibiting all four.

So, the first, and the one of which I am most forgiving, is lack of skill. For some, this might be temporary-- an unavoidable product of inexperience that will ideally disappear once the driver gets several years of frequent driving under their belt. But even then, that experience needs to be broad. A decade of city driving in good weather is of no use to someone driving on a highway in a blizzard for the first time. I can certainly attest to this-- you can generally count on at least one car sliding off the road at Bluebird corner (a sharp S-shaped corner near my home) every time there's a bad storm, and I only need to watch someone pull off a busy highway into a driveway once to know if it's something they do often (the majority of city drivers aren't cognizant of the informal experience-driven rules governing this). However, even with experience under their belt, some people just aren't cut out to be skilled drivers, and likely never will be, in much the same way that no amount of experience would make me a skilled diplomat. Unfortunately, driving is a necessity in the lives of many, or at least a perceived necessity, so they just have to make do with the skills they have. This is certainly not ideal, but since I understand the need for a vehicle, I can forgive them, provided that their skills are at least passable.

However, I am much less forgiving of ignorance. Some people just don't seem to care that they have bad driving habits, and make light of the danger they present to both themselves and others. One of the examples above was drawn from a conversation I overheard while working with Supply and Services several years ago. One of my co-workers drove a motorcycle, and was complaining about how someone had almost just run into him. One of the women he was speaking with laughed and said "oh, I just don't see motorcycles." How precisely is this funny? He certainly didn't seem to think it was funny, although he waited until she left to say as much. That's like someone walking around downtown swinging a rifle and laughingly proclaiming "oh, I can never remember to put the safety on." If you typically don't notice motorcycles when you're driving, then you'd damn well better start paying more attention.

Similarly, suppose you find yourself idling in front of a green light for a third time while distracted by talking on a cell phone, doing your makeup, or fixing your hair. Perhaps at that point in might occur to you to STOP DOING IT? And if you keep finding yourself having to slam on your breaks when you drive, maybe you shouldn't be trying to kiss the bumper of the fucking car in front of you all of the time. BACK OFF. Or suppose that you keep stopping at the same set of lights every morning, and never get the left-turn light that you want. BACK THE FUCK UP AND GET BEHIND THE STOP LINE BEFORE SOMEONE ELSE TRYING TO MAKE A TURN FROM THE INTERSECTING STREET RUNS INTO YOUR IGNORANT ASS. *Ahem* Sorry for yelling. That one is a pet peeve. No hope of a career in diplomacy, remember? Anyway, moving on...

Finally, there's the truck I mentioned above, trying to make a difficult left turn. Does the driver realize how angry and impatient everyone behind them is getting? If they have to wait five minutes to successfully make that turn, and cut someone off to do it, then maybe it might occur to them that it's not a turn they should be making in the first place. There are of course exceptions to this, but, generally, if the driver is willing to take a moment to plan their route, they can avoid that turn by going out of their way a little-- perhaps taking a different, less direct route, or taking advantage of a set of traffic lights placed elsewhere on that same street. That truck might not be attempting that inadvisable turn out of ignorance, however. It is equally possibly that they are simply too lazy to be bothered with an alternative route, and that is something that I simply cannot bring myself to forgive.

I have come to believe that people are, fundamentally, lazy. Even the hardest workers will occasionally take pleasure in simple acts of laziness, like not bothering to get the newspaper out of the mailbox when they get home, leaving the task to someone else in the household. At the very least, most people are prone to bouts of laziness. I, for one, am incredibly lazy. I'm so lazy that I don't eat ribs, on account of their being what I call a "high-maintenance" food, meaning that I find it too much of a bother to eat around and properly dispose of all the bones. So, yeah, I'm damned lazy. But even I can be bothered to check my blind spots, to put on my seatbelt, and to telegraph my intent to other drivers via those little flashing lights on the outside of my vehicle that everyone in this town seems to think are decorative. I am talking, of course, about turn signals. If I were to hazard a ballpark estimate, I would say less than half, that's right, LESS THAN HALF, of the drivers in this city generally can't be bothered to use their turn signals on a regular basis. And it BLOWS MY MIND. How goddamned lazy do you have to be that you can't exert the energy necessary to move your FUCKING INDEX FINGER up and down a couple of inches. Your INDEX FINGER. A COUPLE OF INCHES. That is the sum total of the necessary effort required to telegraph your intent to everyone in sight of your vehicle, and to make the lives of all of those same people a little safer. It's just... ARGH. *sigh*

Finally, we come to impatience, the vice of which I am most guilty, which I'm sure surprises no one who knows me well, or has read this far (Hell, reading the previous paragraph would probably be evidence enough). I suspect that this one is perhaps the most prevalent of the four, but it really can't help but be, given the high price of gas these days, and because a city full of drivers lacking skill, effort, and common sense can't help but breed impatience in everyone else. Impatient people make bad decisions, and they quickly turn into angry people, who make even worse decisions, and become so self-absorbed that they tend to become ignorant as well, losing situational awareness. As you may infer from the yelling above, I am prone to road rage, as are many others. I also like to be punctual (although the desire seems to lessen with each passing year), and have little patience if I feel that another driver may cause me to be late. I generally try my damndest to keep that rage inside the car, and not let it be reflected in my driving (the verbal outbursts are generally useful in this respect), but I don't always succeed at this. At the very least, I make the effort, which can't be said for many, and I'm aware of the problem and do my best to address it. Leaving a few minutes early is often the simplest and most effective preventative measure, and I can't recommend it enough to anyone else who is prone to road rage.

To get back to drivers in general: impatience/anger makes people do very stupid things. Small holes in traffic suddenly seem bigger. Fast approaching cars suddenly seem slower and further away. Cars in front of you suddenly seem much slower, and dashed lines suddenly seem to go on much further. Pedestrians suddenly seem to be much further away from crosswalks. Yellow lights suddenly last twice as long. And, finally, no one else on or off the road seems as important as YOU. Clearly, that's a very dangerous point of view to have when you're behind the wheel, and, as such, impatience may very well be the most dangerous of the four vices I've discussed (although the remaining three are still quite dangerous in their own right). However, it is by virtue of this very possibility that the other three suddenly become more important. Let's revisit the offenses I listed above. They certainly don't all seem to be life-and-death situations, do they? Well, this isn't entirely true. You see, any one of those situations has the capacity to turn an impatient driver into an angry driver, and some of them have the capacity to turn even a patient driver into an angry driver. So, by the time that tenth car in line finally gets his chance to turn right after waiting for the front vehicle to turn left, he may be quite angry, and, if he is, he's far more likely to impatiently dart out into a small gap in traffic. This being the case, I think that the best cure for road rage is for everyone, ragers included, to do their best to become more skilled, more aware, and more considerate drivers. Like that's going to happen. :-/

So, Fredericton's drivers are dangerous. Does that make them the worst in the country? I'm certainly a poor judge of that, given that I've never been further west than Hull. That being said, any driving that I have done outside of Fredericton has generally been a more pleasant experience, and that's saying a lot, given that I'm often angry over my own mistakes at the time-- the products of driving in an unfamiliar place (getting in the wrong lane, getting lost, etc). Even my last drive through Montreal, while hectic, caused me to notice a sort of bizarre skill in the other drivers as they weaved recklessly through traffic. Still, I can't claim that we have the worst drivers in the country with any certainty. But I still feel safe claiming that nobody in this city can drive. If we're not the worst in the country, I'm quite thankful that I don't do much traveling.


Blogger Darcy Cameron said...

I try not to let it get to me, and a lot of the stuff you're complaining about I'm usually inclined to just let roll off my back. But there are two things that I absoultely can't stand when driving in this city.

First, tailgaters - especially in the city. With all the traffic, stop signs, street lights, etc in the city, driving fast does not save any time. And a word to all you tailgaters out there: It doesn't make the car in front of you go any faster!!!! For me it produces the opposite effect. Tailgaters so enrage me and I will slow down to a crawl, which produces one of two results. Either they get the message and back off, or they speed up and pass me, which gets them no further ahead because at the next red light there I am right behind them again. It saves all of 2 seconds. IDIOTS!!!

Second, I can't stand it when 5 or 6 cars rush through a yellow light that is about to turn red. Usually the last car or two ends up actually going through the red light. I mean come on!! Unless a family member is dying, or your wife is in labour, stop at the light and wait your fucking turn! The worst is when people are trying to make a turn before a light tirns red and inevitably the last car trying to speed through gets stuck in the middle of the intersection just as the light I've been sitting at turns green, but now I can't move because god forbid the jackass stuck in the middle should have stopped and waited 15 extra seconds. People holding up lines by trying to make a left turn don't really bother me, but someone who tries to make it through a light that's about to turn red and ends up holding up a line of cars who have already been sitting at a red light really makes me mad.

Thursday, April 27, 2006 10:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Aiden McAidenMan said...

To tailgators, if anyone is tailgating me i will go slower and tap my breaks every once in awhile, nothing makes me more angry then people tailgating people. Also i cant believe i read this whole rant, i kept expecting it to be over but it kept going.

Oh and one time when i was like 5-6 i got hit in the face with a rock from a lawn mower, my parents were rushing me to the hospitol, i guess i was bleeding a lot, and while on the trans-canada (the old one not the new one) there was one jackass who wouldnt let me parents pass, he would speed up when they tried to pass, and slow down when they pulled back over into the lane. so yeah...

Friday, April 28, 2006 8:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got some alternative options for you:

1. Fredericton has numerous bike trails - maybe there are some that are near your home and work? Did you ever consider biking? It could have a calming effect on you with the added benefit of fresh air.

Don't own a bike? Maybe you should start up a PayPal account and all your readers could contribute to it - kinda like a bicycle fundraiser thing. You'd have to promise not to spend the money on new games, though.

2. Ride the bus. It's fun. You can play "name that smell" and "what's that on the floor"? You meet all kinds of people (is that good or bad?) If you get a handheld gaming thing then it wouldn't be a complete waste of time for you.

3. Of course the best approach might be to convince your management that you should work from home. I wonder if you'd complain about the internet traffic then? ha.

If you must know who I am,... I'm the driver with the left blinker on - I like the clicking noise and it's a bit of a game to see how long I can keep it on without it automatically turning off.

Friday, April 28, 2006 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Jordan said...

In reply to the immediate above: I live quite some distance outside of the city, so the buses don't run anywhere near here, and biking isn't really a very practical option.

Friday, April 28, 2006 12:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting topic.

If it makes you feel any better, Ottawa drivers have a similar yellow light problem. If you stop at a yellow light here, you are very likely to be rear-ended by the three cars behind you that had decided to run it.

Friday, April 28, 2006 1:27:00 PM  
Anonymous vern said...

I used to bike all the time, and then I got hit by a car. And that summer I had heard of 2 other people I know getting hit by cars while on bikes, and 1 person indirectly known who died. Biking's not safe anywhere unless you're on trails only though, and the Fredericton trail system doesn't really go anywhere beyond the river area. Talk about people not seeing motorcycles? People don't see bicycles.

All the problems you talked about exist everywhere.
People tailgate everywhere, that's for sure. I think Fredericton drivers are better for tailgating than other people, least on highways where it seems that tailgating is the biggest reason why there are mulitple cars in car crashes.

I've said it so many times before, and I'll say it again: Fredericton has serious traffic problems for a city of it's size, and I think that the inordinate amount of time it takes to get anywhere just makes them want to hurry and get their faster, which makes the road rage more, which makes them try to get through that red light, etc.

It's ridiculous though the people who slowly try to make a turn on the now-red light who'll never make it through the intersection, and get caught in it, because that INEVITABLY slows down traffic.
You shouldn't be in the intersection at ALL unless you've entered it on a green light. People get fined for that in Toronto, especially during rush hour. They clearly demarcate the intersection line, and you can't be in it when the light's red.

But then again, Fredericton should fix problems with making left turns. Either put in a turn signal, or make it law that you can't turn left on that road during the day or something, if there're intersections where a car only gets through during rush hour when the light's yellow.

I love how the buses in Guelph at least always manage to get that last turn in on the yellow. They're so freakin' visible that no car coming the opposite direction tries to go through, even if they've got the right-of-way. They also turn when they clearly wouldn't have enough time to unless the car coming the other way slows down. They do that all the time.

Thursday, May 04, 2006 1:27:00 AM  
Anonymous NOS said...

Bus drivers are maniacs in just about every city I've ever been in. Myself and a certain someone were about 5-6 feet from being just plain *flattened* by a bus while it was turning left on a plain green light, with no arrow, in an otherwise entirely empty intersection.

Thursday, May 04, 2006 5:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

If it's that dangerous on the road, imagine how crazy it being ON a bike or on foot. I can't count how many times I've been nearly hit crossing the street AT A CROSSWALK in this city.

And if you think it's infuriating not knowing where people are going to turn in a car, imagine the side of what you're driving NOT being made of steel and NOT having airbags.

I stick to trails, but city riding is inevitable.

Also, you should try living on a one way street like I do Jordan... your head would explode seeing how many people drive down a street the wrong way despite PILES of signs that tell them not to.

Monday, May 08, 2006 3:53:00 PM  

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