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Every road has its thorn: Beware the rural menaces

In 1971, bespectacled John Denver sang "Country roads, take me home, to the place, I be-long …" If the singer-songwriter's behaviour behind the wheel was anything like the driving one finds on most Canadian rural highways, then that place was jail. Rural driving is terrible.

Yet, while millions are spent studying urban road blight, our country cousins don't seem to be given the same treatment despite the fact that some of the most insane driving stunts imaginable occur on country roads.

In 2005, researchers at the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research interviewed 212 of the province's rural drivers. The study found "that it is common for rural drivers to break or 'negotiate' traffic laws if it helps them in their work lives or in fulfilment of their immediate needs. They judge some traffic laws as unreasonable and question their effect on safety. Hence, they do not feel committed to universally honouring traffic laws."

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I don't have a study but i have identified five different culprits of "Rural Road Menace."

1) The Dusty Pickup. Stick a couple of Australians wearing 1980s shoulder pads, face paint and sporting Mohawk haircuts in there and this vehicle would fit perfectly in The Road Warrior. This guy is local. He knows the roads. His ice fishing buddy is chief of police. You're doing 90 in an 80 km/h zone and the Dusty Pickup appears in a flash and blazes by you doing 125.

2) The Retiree. His eyesight is fading (he's legally blind) but it's okay because his wife rides shotgun and tells him when to stop. He only drives when it is absolutely necessary – like when he needs or wants anything or is simply bored and wants to go for a drive. Treats No Frills parking lot like bumper car ride.

3) The RV. This guy craves the tension and angst of a family holiday but wants to up the claustrophobia. "Hey, gang! I have a great idea! Why don't we spend all day in a big van with a toilet and follow that up by spending all night there?" He either drives his hulking piece of crap like he's trying to qualify for NASCAR or he chugs along at 30 km/h to savour the buzz.

But the ugly truth is that two of the most heinous rural drivers are urban in origin.

4) The Serpent's Head. This is the city-dwelling holiday driver who gets on a two-lane highway and travels at just below, or exactly at, the speed limit. His slow pace clogs the road and instantly a long chain of cars begins to snake behind him. The Serpent's Head is oblivious to the delay and danger he creates. He grimly grips the wheel and crawls along. The only way to defeat the Serpent is by cutting off its head. This happens when this timid driver finally turns off the road.

That's the cue for an even more stupid breed to step up.

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5) The Cottage Comer. When a highway snake forms, this impatient motorist goes into a state of fury. The stakes are high. If he continues driving at this rate then he will be 20 minutes late arriving at his holiday destination! Those are 20 minutes he could be relaxing! What is the Cottage Comer's solution? Pass at the most dangerous and illegal moments. Is that a curve and a double line he sees before him? Time to pass. Sure, he might get killed but 20 minutes is 20 minutes.

I find being at the head of a traffic column nerve-wracking. It's like "walking point" in Vietnam. The pressure is on to keep the speed up but you know the cops are out there, just waiting. So I generally do nothing. I chug along until the timid driver turns off or a safe, legal opportunity to pass. But usually, I'm too lazy to bother. I just daydream about having sex or how cool it would be if I could fly.

For Larry Crowne life is like a ride on a scooter – lame

USA Today rightly describes Tom Hanks' latest vehicle Larry Crowne as a film in which a man is "forced to ride a scooter in tough economic times." I don't believe a writer has ever better captured a movie's essence. In the film, Hanks' character loses his job, goes to college and is compelled to use a cost-effective two-wheeler. America embraces its own downsizing.

I was drawn to the film by an advertising campaign that featured Hank and costar Julia Roberts perched on a 1983 Yamaha Riva 180. Fighting off a summer cold, I hoped that the scooter-booster movie might remind me of the time I spent doing research in Rome, a place where fetching ladies and dashing gentlemen navigate the city's labyrinth streets by Vespa.

Larry Crowne is not, however, a romantic portrayal of scooter culture. It's more "Just-Say-No" public service announcement than La Dolce Vita or Roman Holiday. Scooters are presented as the responsible, cuddly transport option. Not something you take on your way to a socialist rally or wine tasting.

If Tom Hanks were here right now I would look him right in the eyes and tell him I loved Larry Crowne. But he's not. So I can tell you that if your idea of a great time is watching Forrest Gump being "forced to ride a scooter in tough economic times" then Larry Crowne is for you.

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Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy

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About the Author
Road Sage columnist

Andrew Clark, an award-winning journalist, screenwriter and author, is Director of the Comedy Writing and Performance program at Humber College in Toronto. More

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