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road sage

I once participated in a “team-building” exercise that began with the leader happily telling those assembled that, “This workshop is based on the belief, which I think we all share, that people are innately good.”

That was it for me – Clark out. I completely shut down.

All I gleaned from the workshop was that I was not into “teams,” “building,” “building teams” or teams of any kind building anything.

It’s not that I believe human beings are innately evil, I just adhere to the concept that when people are faced with a choice between doing what’s right and doing what’s right for them, they often choose the latter.

Take, as an example, the proliferation of bad parking over the last three months. Crappy parking has spread almost as fast as the coronavirus, and it doesn’t seem to be flattening.

The reason we are seeing an increase in poor parking jobs? No one is cracking down on them. A good turn has not gone unpunished.

Whene the country went into lockdown in mid-March, many municipalities eased up on parking enforcement. This is a state of emergency, the thinking went, and citizens shouldn’t be punished because they can’t find legal parking while physically distancing. In Toronto, for instance, police stopped issuing tickets for violations of on-street permit parking, time-limit offences, driving with expired license plates and parking in school zones. Vancouver enacted the same measures and rolled them back in mid-April. In Prince Albert, Sask., the city stopped issuing tickets downtown.

What have we learned? As much as we malign them, we need parking enforcement officers.

Left to their own discretion, a large swathe of drivers will park anywhere they can fit their cars. To these folks, parking permits, parking regulations – any sort of restraint, really – are irrelevant.

These aren’t one-off incidents. These are habitual scofflaws who revel in the lack of enforcement. On my street, for example, there are approximately a dozen vehicles parked without permits on the wrong side of the street. These vehicles create a narrow valley that other drivers must squeeze through. The same cars are parked day after day in violation. The same scenario is repeated across the city.

Normally, if you park without a permit, you’re guaranteed a ticket. Wake up the next morning, and the yellow love note will be there. I know people who have been given a ticket even when they had an overnight permit on display.

And so it goes. The reasonable easing-up of parking enforcement has been exploited and led to more egregious kinds of poor parking. Bike lanes are blocked with impunity. Disabled spots are used by abled-bodied drivers. Gas-guzzling SUVs parked in spaces reserved for electric vehicles.

I believe that this disdain for rules of the road is leading to an increase in other kinds of bad driving. For most of the lockdowns, the roads were empty. An increase in stunt driving made the newspapers. What did not was an overall increase in speeding. Stunt drivers are the extreme; however, “everyday” drivers who go 60 km/h on a 40 km/h residential street are also dangerous. As lockdown eases, there will be more pedestrians and cyclists on the road. If motorists won’t drive responsibly then we will need law enforcement to crack down.

Which leads me back to team-building workshops.

If I were running one I’d begin by saying, ““This workshop is based on the belief, which I think we all share, that people are innately careless drivers.”

The easiest way to combat this truth is for each person who operates a vehicle to keep their driving skills sharp and to make a deliberate effort to drive defensively. For most of us, driving is the single most risky activity we engage in. It’s the one thing we do each day that can result in serious injury or even death. Bad parking may seem innocuous but it’s not and it may lead to worse behaviour. So pay attention.

And if you won’t, here’s a ticket.

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