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Sometimes the simplest concepts are the most difficult to understand. Take, for instance, the one-way street. It seems pretty straightforward; it’s a street on which you can only drive in one direction. This characteristic separates it from streets on which traffic travels in both directions. On a one-way street you can only drive “one-way.” The name is the first clue.

And yet, there is confusion. It’s been a mild obsession of mine. The idea of the one-way street was dreamed up by a wealthy New Yorker named William Phelps Eno. Dubbed the “Father of Traffic Safety,” in 1900 he published an article titled “Reforming Our Street Traffic Urgently Needed.” Eno created the stop sign, traffic lights, taxi stands, pedestrian islands and the one-way street.

In 1909, New York City adopted Eno’s “rules of the road” and motorists have gone the wrong way on one-way streets ever since.

Wrong-way drivers can be divided into two categories. There are those who willfully drive the wrong way and those who find themselves accidentally driving the wrong way.

Thankfully, most wrong-way drivers fall into the latter category. You miss the one-way sign, or the sign is not very visible and you find yourself committing the sin. You may drive along oblivious to this fact until a driver travelling in the right direction alerts you with a vigorous honk or you may realize it almost as soon as you make the mistake. In either event, the logical next step is to change direction as quickly and safely as possible while miming an apology to any and all onlookers.

Accidents happen. We’ve all made a few wrong turns.

The same cannot be said of drivers who treat the concept of the one-way street as if it were a mild suggestion. They will adhere to Eno’s “rules of the road” right up to the point it inconveniences them.

That’s when one-way becomes “my-way.” A motorist in Kelowna has recorded three such incidents. The man (identified only as “Jeremiah”) told Kelowna Now that having three one-way wrong-way close-calls in six months has been both “baffling and disheartening.” You don’t have to travel to the B.C. to find drivers going against the flow. It happens in every city. Unfortunately, this behaviour can have fatal consequences, especially when it happens on a highway.

Putting aside examples of this severe outcome, the less harmful one-way scofflaws come in three main varieties:

a) Those who speed the wrong way down one-way streets.

b) Those who reverse the wrong way down one-way streets.

c) Those who use the mouth of a one-way as extra space to make a U-turn. They initially turn the right way onto the one-way before quickly turning the car around and then going the opposite direction from which they came on the two-way street.

The speeders simply do not care. They are proud of their wrongdoing. I live on a one-way street and we encountered one the other day. He zipped by going the wrong direction without a care in the world and was almost rammed by someone backing out of their driveway, who was looking in the correct direction for any oncoming traffic. The speedsters believe they reduce the severity of their transgression by getting it over with. They take a page from Macbeth, “If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly.”

The reversers are ashamed and try to disguise their journeys by having their automobiles facing the right direction. Rather than drive the wrong way, they reverse the wrong way, convinced that no one can see through their misdirection. The fact that movement is defined not by which way one faces but by the direction one moves, does not register with them. These master illusionists dismiss their misdeeds as excusable and think they’re fooling the world.

The U-turn gang is easy to spot. They’re the drivers facing the wrong way while waiting to make a left turn off a one-way street.

One-way streets: there is only one way to drive them correctly, but so many ways to travel in the wrong direction.

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