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rules of the road

Take a close look at any car commercial and you'll notice something startlingly surreal.

It's not the sight of cars driving up the sides of skyscrapers, or racing through mountain passes under the admiring gazes of wildlife destined to become road kill or even the fact that the car salesmen in commercials appear to be people you wouldn't mind sharing a stalled elevator with.

No, the real affront to reality is the fact that every person driving a car in those ads is smiling, or even laughing. They're having the time of their lives, which apparently was the reality of driving back in the days when we toured the U.S.A. in our Chevrolet or maybe even Ca-na-da in our old La-da.

But the reality is that they're laughing only because of two other car ad anomalies. One is that they're all happily sailing along at warp speed in the fast lane, which in real life is known as the not-quite-as-slow lane.

Secondly, there are seldom any other cars on the road in commercials, unless they're driven by incredibly attractive young men and women apparently so awestruck by anyone driving the sponsor's car they gleefully make way for them.

But it's not just the fact that there are so many other drivers on the road that keeps our laugh quotient below that of an Ingmar Bergman movie. In fact, driving would still be a guffaw-filled pastime if the people with whom we shared the road were all in awe of us, or at least if they were considerate, capable drivers.

But, sadly, too many are either inconsiderate or inept – or both. The truth is that they're experts on sucking the joy out of driving, whether it's in the fast, slow or middle lane.

Take, for example, the peripatetic lane-hopper. He's the guy who firmly believes that whatever lane he's in is the slowest one and that the only way to keep moving is to continuously change lanes – preferably without signalling, checking his blind spot or apparently thinking.

Not only does he keep the rest of us in a state of terror as we try to guess when he will attempt the classic four-lane crossover to make an exit he forgot was coming, he also manages to slow us down. That's because, as traffic studies have shown, brake lights on an expressway in St. John's will eventually slow traffic in Victoria.

But he's far from alone.

Equally adept at killing the joy of driving is his close relative, the guy who likes to sample different lanes while never quite leaving the one he's in. Get stuck behind one of these lane-drifters and you can guarantee that your afternoon drive will be smile-free, and may even include a heart attack.

Then there's the granddaddy of all killjoys: the passing lane-clogger. This is the guy who may even be dyslexic, somehow confusing the left and right lanes as he religiously maintains a speed at least 20 km/h below the legal limit regardless of how many cars line up behind him and regardless of how many warning shots are fired over his head.

Now there's an idea for a realistic car commercial.

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