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Drive Culture Vehicular hubris brought out the stupid and energetic during Ontario ice storm

A southbound car on Margueretta Street in Toronto is stopped by a tree on April 15, 2018.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Sometimes it snows in April and sometimes the fury of the winter gods rains down with a vengeance. Such was the case when Central Canada endured a springtime bout of icy meanness – think of it as “Ice Storm Primavera.” The region took everything winter had to throw at it – ice pellets, snow, wild wind so extreme the CN Tower was closed and remained closed as authorities worried that an enormous ice sheet clinging to it might drop off and cause injury. It took freezing rain, driving rain and wet rain. There were power blackouts and felled trees. There was nothing to do but curl up and endure. Weather is unavoidable. It hits us all.

Stupidity, however, is another matter. Korean War veteran and military historian Bill McAndrew once explained this phenomenon when he told me how the military approached awarding promotions. “First, you promote the smart and energetic,” he told me. “Then you promote the smart and lazy, then you promote the stupid and lazy, but you never, never, ever, promote someone who is stupid and energetic.”

Our recent ice storm provided a concrete example of the thinking behind this axiom. It was the Indy 500 of the Stupid and Energetic. Despite a clear and constant barrage of notifications and messages exhorting people not to drive unless absolutely necessary, the roads were busy. Sentient beings decided a little apocalyptic ice and cold was not going to get between them and their Tim Hortons drive-thru. I was guilty myself – I made a local trip driving someone who was getting over a foot injury and didn’t want to risk falling on the ice during her walk to work. (I’ve taken a winter driving course and I adjusted my driving to fit the conditions.)

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The results of this vehicular hubris were predictable. During the weekend of bad weather, the Ontario Provincial Police were called to 1,600 accidents in the Greater Toronto Area alone. Keep in mind, these are accidents that were serious enough to require a police report. Conservatively, we can guess there were at least twice as many fender-benders.

Not enough dumb?

The OPP filed 15 criminal impaired-driving charges. Imagine being so dim and irresponsible that you drive out into an ice storm, stop somewhere and get drunk, and then get back in your car and go for a spin. Can you comprehend the number of things that would have to go wrong in your life in order for you to make those kinds of decisions?

The number of ice storm accidents are a sad example of what’s wrong with our approach to driving. It’s a habit we can’t kick, even when we need to most. Is anything so important that it’s worth risking life and limb? The same Canadians who fervently support gun control happily indulge in driving that can have lethal consequences. Cars kill far more Canadians than guns and yet there is little uproar. Just a collective shrug. Getting on Highway 401 during the height of an ice storm is no different than drinking a mickey of gin and waving a pistol around. Both are irresponsible and dangerous. The former, however, is seen as benign.

We’re used to bad driving during the first snowstorm of the winter. Motorists aren’t used to icy conditions. This was not the case for Ice Storm Primavera. We had just (we thought) finished winter. We have Netflix, cable TV, 24-hour sports, we have books. We have corner stores. There is no excuse. We also have a driving addiction and there’s no way or will to kick it.

So take note, Canada – be on the look out for the stupid and energetic and behind the wheel.

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