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road sage

I live on a one-way street. The traffic flows in one direction. It all goes – one way.

To me that's always been a fairly easy concept. On most streets, you can drive both ways but, on a one-way street, you can only travel in one direction.

How do you know you're on a one-way street? They're not hard to spot. One-way streets can be identified by signs with large white arrows pointing the "one" direction that traffic is allowed to flow. There sometimes are "Do Not Enter" signs to stop you from going down them the wrong way. There's even a very popular U.K. boy-band named after the principle – One Direction.

Yet somehow, lately, even this most fundamental driving principle is being challenged. The other evening, for instance, driving down my street I discovered a guy in an Odyssey going the wrong way. I assumed he was lost. That happens. A visitor makes a turn and then realizes after the fact that he's gone the wrong way down a one-way. I pulled up beside him and rolled down my window.

"Hey," I said. "This is a one-way."

"I know," he said. Then he put his foot on the gas and continued his wrong-way journey; a trip that would no doubt climax with him parking illegally in a handicapped spot.

I was stunned. Yet I had to admire his honesty. As far as he was concerned, it was a "one-way" street. He could drive one way – whatever way he wanted. This was in fact a "his-way" street.

To the gentleman in the Odyssey, the Highway Traffic Act was just so much toilet paper sitting at the ready in case he ran out of cottony soft bathroom tissue.

Tragically, he wasn't the first driver I'd seen ignore the one-way edict. In fact, it's pretty common.

I wager that soon the very notion of one-way streets will be up for debate. Why should you have to drive one way down a street when you want to drive both ways? It's a violation of your rights! It's the logical devolution caused by our general disregard for other rules of the road. Drivers no longer consider laws a means of organizing traffic so it can work safely. They consider them a minor nuisance. So yellow lights become greens and red lights become yellows.

The wrong-way Odyssey driver is merely the most blatant example of this contempt. He simply doesn't care. He's breaking the law and he's fine with that. Does he care that people driving the wrong way on one-way streets (and highway on-ramps) cause many traffic fatalities? No, he doesn't.

There are actually quite a few variations on the wrong-way principle.

  • The Reverser: Some drivers try to get around the signage by reversing backward for long distances down one-way-streets. They think if your car is pointed in the right direction it doesn’t matter if it is going in the wrong direction. These folks will reverse one or more blocks. Is it dangerous? Oh yes, very. But it’s convenient so, hey, it’s worth the risk.
  • The U-turn Wrong-Ways: These drivers use the mouths of a one-way as a means of executing a loose U-turn. They turn the wrong-way onto a one-way and then nose out. So they’re now trying to turn the wrong direction out of a one-way street.
  • The Light-Speed Wrong-Ways: These drivers think it’s okay to drive the wrong way if you only do it for a short distance. It’s only 50 feet to the street he wants to be on, so like a thief he waits till the coast is clear and darts out from an alley or a driveway and zips the wrong way. His crime saves him maybe 25 seconds off the time it would take drive the correct direction.
  • The Bicycle Salmon: Like doomed fished trying to spawn, these cyclists get a rush by going against the stream. The term was coined by blogger Bike Snob NYC to describe cyclists who ignore one-way streets and who even bike the wrong way in bike lanes. Is it dangerous? Yes. Cars have trouble being aware of cyclists at the best of times. This move just raises the risk.
  • The Taxi: If the wrong cab driver gets the right feeling from his fare that it’s okay to go rogue on the roads, he’ll drive the wrong way. One-way streets become “no-way streets.” As in there is “no way” he is not going to drive the wrong way down this street.

It's tempting to join the anarchy. Who doesn't want to drive wherever he wants whenever he wants? But I'm going to hold off for now. It's not altruism – I'm being selfish. It's hard enough to navigate our streets safely. When you make a practice of ignoring the rules (like one-way streets), sooner or later you're bound to end up in an accident and on the wrong side of the law.

Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy

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