The closest I get to long weekend traffic is glancing at my television when the news is on, and watching the backdrop of an endless snake of vehicles unfurling behind the Smoky the Bear hat of a police spokesman explaining that nobody is going anywhere soon.
It's easy for me to shrug and wonder why anyone would bother. But I get it; when someone else makes your timetable, you work with what you have to take part in that time-honoured Canadian tradition of ditching the city on a long weekend to be somewhere else. The drive that bookends those three days is incidental if you’re determined.
As a teenager, I’d clutch the newly surrendered keys to the cottage, pile in with friends and join the queue. The drive was part of the fun, and we didn’t care how long it took. The entire idea of making good time was something my father rallied for – for a bunch of kids, the bumper-to-bumper traffic jams were all part of the experience. My dad would brag about the shortest time he’d ever made the trip, and we would brag about the longest.
The time isn’t what draws me to the newscasts. It’s the crashes. The crashes, the injuries, the deaths. I wince, knowing what the cops know: it’s a numbers game, and they can usually estimate how many collisions they’ll attend, and how many people will lose their lives on the road. Nobody sets out on that Friday afternoon not planning on going back to work on Tuesday. Nobody.
Now it’s my sons planning treks northward on a long weekend, and every instinct in my mama body is screaming at me to duct tape them to a chair in their rooms and keep them safely at home. And, once again, I wonder how my parents ushered all of us through to adulthood. This is terrifying.
They started tuning out my advice about five minutes after I started giving it. How could I possibly know more than a teenager? It then occurred to me that the things I’m begging them to do are things I wish every person on the roads this weekend would do. Please.
Do a safety check on your vehicle the day before.
Assuming you do regular maintenance, check the tires and the windshield washer fluid. If you’re hauling a trailer, make sure it’s safe and that your load is secure. Flying coolers are deadly.
Make sure you have roadside assistance.
New cars usually come with a program, and CAA is pretty cheap for good service. Problems 200 kilometres from home wreck your holiday, and make other people rich.
Assume you’re in it for the long haul.
Don’t tell people on the other end to expect you at a certain time; you can call from the road if delays are really bad, but don’t be stressed trying to keep to a timetable that is beyond your control.
Don’t drive like a fool.
No, really. You know who you are, and you know why you do it. You’re the best driver on the road, the idiot ahead of you needs to be taught a lesson, and your car is built for racing. And frankly, if you only took out yourself, I’d care a lot less; but you don’t. Your actions endanger everyone, and even drivers who enrage you don’t deserve to die.
Stop. A lot.
Give yourself and your passengers a break. It’s easy to get wound up in holiday conditions, especially when you keep seeing the same cars over and over. It starts getting personal if you’re annoyed, so just grab a coffee and let that clutch of cars clear out.
If you’re the driver, please stay focused.
I know you know, but you have no room for error on the holiday corridors. Keep distractions to a minimum. If you’re an inexperienced driver, keep distractions to zero. Passengers, do your part. If your driver is stressing out, say you have to pee to force a stop. Offer to change drivers to head off fatigue.
Put your headlights on.
The whole time. Too many cars only have daytime running lights because the lights aren’t set to auto (that’s a whole ’nother column), but the complete lighting system should be on.
If you find yourself on the side of the road, for whatever reason, stay in your car.
Stay in your car. Stay in your car. The most dangerous place to be is next to a live lane of traffic, and especially between two stopped cars. We drive where our eyes lead us, and someone will plough right into you.
I’ll always worry about my kids, but I’ll also worry about yours. The Victoria Day long weekend signals the beginning of summer in so many ways, and I would love to watch that newscast, and hear the police announce that everyone made it home.
Just like they planned.