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road sage

The U-turn is a universally recognized symbol. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving in Mumbai, Moscow, Montreal or Manhattan. When you see a motorist pull a U-turn on a traffic-jammed street, you know they’re telling the world, “I’m late and it’s everyone else’s problem.” For a long time, illegal U-turns were relatively rare infractions. They weren’t a problem – more of an irritation.

That’s changing. Today, illegal – or at least ill-advised – U-turns are almost as common vices as drivers running yellow lights or getting distracted by their mobile phones. On an average commute, I’ll see three to five of them. The cause? Technology. The rise of services such as Uber and Lyft, which rely on navigation systems, are leading to an increase of clueless knuckle-heads performing gymnastic U-turns on every type of road, street and highway. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen a vehicle spring suddenly from a parked position and attempt to perform a U-turn on a busy street during rush hour, and I’ve seen the Uber logo in the rear windshield.

It makes sense.

A driver who has a destination in mind when they turn on the ignition doesn’t suddenly have a complete change of plan. I’ve never been on the road and realized, “North? I should be driving south! Time for a 180 across four lanes of traffic.” People working as car-share drivers have no idea where they’re going. They get a fare, and spring into action – which often means a U-turn. To them, the U-turn is a vital survival instrument.

The nature of GPS and in-car navigation systems is one gigantic U-turn. When a driver misses a turn, what’s the first thing his GPS tells him? Make a U-turn. Miss that one? Make the next U-turn. Then the next … I turn, you turn, we all turn, for U-turn.

It’s bad advice, since a GPS can’t account for the weird vagaries of provincial traffic laws. For instance, in Ontario, as well as Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick, drivers may make a U-turn at an intersection. In Alberta and British Columbia, intersection U-turns are prohibited with very few exceptions.

There’s a reason provinces try to control the use of intersection U-turns. There is traffic coming from many directions and that makes them risky. To execute a proper U-turn, according to the Ontario Ministry of Transport, a driver must make sure there is no sign prohibiting U-turns and be able to see well in both directions. In fact, drivers should never make a U-turn unless they can see at least 150 metres in both directions. It is illegal to make a U-turn on a curve in the road, on or near a railway crossing or hilltop, or near a bridge or tunnel that blocks your view.

A driver must then “signal for a right turn, check your mirror and over your shoulder and pull over to the right side of the road. Stop. Signal a left turn and when traffic is clear in both directions, move forward and turn quickly and sharply into the opposite lane. Check for traffic as you turn.”

This is the opposite of every U-turn I see.

Most drivers close their eyes, jerk the wheel and cut through traffic, hoping for the best. After all, it beats reaching your destination 45 seconds later. In August, Toronto drivers who found a Don Valley Parkway on-ramp blocked began doing illegal U-turns across four lanes of the busy Don Mills Road. There were so many violations, police had to do a ticket blitz to deter them.

Next time you get the urge to go the other way, fight the urge.

We’ve got a federal election on October 21. Best to leave the risky U-turns to our politicians.

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