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Behind-the-Wheel

Exorcise the speed demons

Whenever I make a public presentation and then open the floor to questions, people always highlight the traffic problems in their neighbourhoods and ask why the police never seem to be doing anything about them. I always feel inadequate when I point out that those same problems exist everywhere in our community and the police can only be there occasionally.

Perhaps the two largest contributors to what we are now seeing as a problem are current road designs and driver behaviour.

For the most part, our neighbourhood streets are designed to move motor vehicles. They are as straight and wide as possible with few view obstructions. A sample street in Parksville is a good illustration. Give a driver an opportunity to use the wide open spaces and they will choose a speed to suit, regardless of the speed limit.

The use of streets for anything other than driving is illustrated by this story from Chemainus where a strata property is seeking to prohibit street use by anyone other than drivers.

This raises the second issue and that is we tend to drive as individuals, often giving little thought to sharing with anyone else. Here I mean sharing in a broad sense, rather than just making room for another driver. Travelling at an appropriate speed, making room for cyclists and pedestrians, parking in an appropriate spot and many other actions that demonstrate something other than "Me First!"

Since the police are only part of the solution, what are the alternatives? Enforcement is only one tool among many and police operate as a service, where municipal traffic staff often do not. I was surprised to find out that the last staff member I contacted told me that city policy allowed him up to one year to respond to a request.

That staff member is part of an alternative that is gaining popularity, and it is one that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week all year long. Traffic calming is the combination of mainly physical measures that reduce the negative effects of motor vehicle use, alter driver behaviour and improve conditions for non-motorized street users.

In the past, the most common traffic calming measure was to put up stop signs that inconvenienced drivers and forced them onto other routes. Today many alternatives exist, such as speed humps (longer than speed bumps), chicanes, chokers, and traffic circles. All of these allow the passage of traffic, but at a slower pace than normal street construction.

Implementing these alternatives will require the participation of your neighbourhood and the municipal government.

To assist, our provincial government has started to publish the Community Road Safety Toolkit as part of our road safety strategy:

The B.C. Community Road Safety Toolkit is an easily-accessible and electronically-searchable knowledge source about road safety designs and strategies that local governments can implement to improve road safety outcomes. At the same time, the knowledge in the toolkit is intended for all agencies with a mandate related to road safety.

There is a simple strategy that we can all implement immediately. Don't be the problem in someone else's neighbourhood!

This article is also on DriveSmartBC.





Slowing too soon for you

I've been asked to discuss the practice of some drivers who "slow down, way back from a stop light, potentially blocking access for both the left and the right turn lane, especially where there is an advance green light for a left turn."

The person who requested the examination is irked by these drivers, as it costs them precious seconds of driving time.

I will admit from the start that I am one of those drivers who watches what is going on around me and anticipates what is going to happen at the intersection. If the light is not green with the traffic moving smoothly in front of me, I will gear down or let up on the accelerator and try to change my speed as evenly as possible until we are back to speed and flowing freely again. It is something I've watched the truck drivers do over the years and have finally seen the wisdom of.

Driving in this manner reduces the wear and tear on my vehicle. I'm not waiting until the last instant to stand on the brakes and come to a halt increasing the risk of a collision if I misjudge. Neither am I having to always start from a complete stop, which contributes to my fuel economy and lowers my carbon footprint.

Lastly, there are no surprises for the drivers around me as they have time to see and adjust to what I am doing.

With this article in mind, I've been watching for something specific behind me as I coast up to a red light. Generally, I don't receive any sign from the driver behind me that they intend to do anything other than follow me up to the intersection. Maybe if they were to give me a clue about what they wanted to do, such as using their signal light, I might choose to temper my speed with their desire.

Yes, I agree, this means that it might take a few seconds longer for other drivers to get to the right or left turn lanes than it would if I was more abrupt.

Oddly enough, I sometimes find myself behind another driver who does this and have to remind myself to take a breath and relax. Since I quit driving an emergency vehicle for a living, I have yet to be in a situation where I couldn't spare a few extra seconds out of my day to improve safety and save some fuel.

I could not find much information on this topic when I researched it. The articles most closely related to making this decision were mathematical proofs of probability, warnings to slow and shadow the brake as you approach or what to watch for ahead and to the sides at the intersection. Many did not advise looking in the rearview mirror to factor traffic behind you into your choice.

What do you think?



The world is my ashtray

I found myself waiting for a red light behind another vehicle this week. That vehicle's driver had his window down, his elbow on the sill and was holding what was left of his cigarette between left thumb and forefinger. I knew exactly what was going to happen: one last drag on the butt and flick, away it went into the ditch.

What's more, if I looked to my left I would almost think that I was stopped next to an ashtray. The ground was covered with discarded butts left to smoulder into oblivion by people who probably didn't stop to think of the potential for destruction that their action represented.

I agree, between October and April of each year there might not be a lot of risk, but once the habit is formed it will continue through May to September without a second thought.

The best illustration of this were drivers that I had stopped for a traffic violation. Occasionally, as I walked up to the driver's door, they would toss a butt out onto the pavement. I would offer to pick it up but warned that it would cost them if I did. They could choose to do it themselves for free.

There was usually a pause at this point while the driver tried to decide if I was serious or not. Sometimes it took a while, but all of them eventually decided I was and got out to retrieve their garbage.

Now what? In many of these situations the ashtray in the vehicle was as clean as the day it had been installed at the factory. The driver would look around for something else to use and only reluctantly put it in the ashtray as a last resort.

Obviously, some people always toss their butts out the window regardless of the time of year or risk in doing so.

One might think that even if a fire were to start, the grassy median between two strips of double laned asphalt would contain it and nothing too serious would happen. My experience shows otherwise, as I have seen median fires fanned by winds that easily jumped across the pavement and either started into the forest or toward homes and businesses.

Half of the forest fires in B.C. each year are caused by human activity and smoking materials are high on the list of culprits.

If you are a smoker, please use your ashtray. If you don't, you never know who might be watching and may choose to provide your licence plate number to police. A violation ticket for discarding that butt under the Wildfire Act carries a penalty of $575 no matter what time of year it is.

The case of R vs. Barre is an example of instances that are dealt with by a court appearance rather than a traffic ticket. Mr. Barre admitted starting the Barriere McLure fire in July 2003.

There is no indication that Mr. Barre was required to pay for fire control costs, but there is provision for this in the Wildfire Act.

This story also appears on DriveSmartBC.



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Don't push me!

Ah courtesy, where have you gone? You are certainly scarce on the highways and byways of our fair province! When was the last time another driver did something nice for you to facilitate a movement? Did you wave to say thank you afterward? We can all get along nicely with a bit of courtesy now and again.

Here is the message from the DriveSmartBC inbox that triggered my observation:

One thing that really bugs me is that drivers almost push their way into traffic. Whether it be coming from a side street or backing out from their driveway they don't seem to know that they shouldn't be impeding rolling traffic. I was always taught that if you are entering a roadway one should do so that moving traffic doesn't have to significantly slow, or in some cases jam on their brakes to let you in.

Yes, there are many drivers who don't know the meaning of the word yield, including this reader. They will no doubt be shocked to learn that sometimes through traffic does have to yield to those who are trying to enter or leave the highway. Heaven forbid!

If I am attempting to turn left at an intersection and you are approaching me from the front, if you are close enough to be a hazard, I must yield and let you pass by. However, if you are not, you must yield and allow me to turn left.

Don't EVER count on approaching traffic to do this.

If I have stopped at the stop sign on a cross street and yielded to traffic passing by on the through street, if you are not approaching closely, you must yield and let me enter or cross the through street.

Drivers who wait patiently for a gap in the traffic when it is heavy may wait for hours, so they do creep forward until a passing driver is uncomfortable and stops to let them in.

Of course, there are also drivers who jam themselves into traffic without regard for others in order to save a few seconds. They may be charged for failing to yield the right of way as well.

For those who are trying to do this backward, the entire onus to proceed safely is on the driver who is travelling in reverse.

Vancouver's Worst Drivers Dashcam is a YouTube channel that is full of examples of bad driving from the lower mainland. There are many channels like it and some specialize is showing collisions.

If you watch a few of these videos, it quickly becomes apparent that many drivers feel entitled to their right of way and will insist on it, right to the point of becoming involved in a clearly avoidable crash!

As all of my driving instructor friends will tell you, right of way is given, not taken.

This column also appears on DriveSmartBC.



More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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