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Despite laws prohibiting texting while driving, many drivers choose to ignore the rule, despite the safety risks. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Despite laws prohibiting texting while driving, many drivers choose to ignore the rule, despite the safety risks. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Drive, She Said

Why I’m all for driver-less cars Add to ...

The next time you see a car driving along with one of those flags clipped to its window, look closely. It will be my car. And the flag will be white.

What am I surrendering? I’m giving up the notion that any article, any discussion, any program or any comment will ever change the deadly driving habits of people who simply refuse to believe they’re doing anything wrong.

During rush hour as I headed into Toronto the other day, I had a hopeful moment when I saw an officer had pulled over a lone driver who had been squirrelling in and out of traffic until he finally got into the commuter lane. My hope was short-lived, however, as I continued to see dozens of others doing the same thing.

Everybody texts. That is all. Truck drivers, teens, men, women. It is probably the most prominent topic on road safety right now, with ad campaigns and heart-wrenching stories and yet, without fail, for every couple of minutes I’m on the road, I see someone texting. I read the overhead signs that warn me of a $155 ticket for using a hand-held device, and I wonder why they bother.

You might as well drive in any lane you want. Truly. It doesn’t matter. Nobody gets the concept of staying right except to pass. I drove down the Don Valley Parkway at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night recently – not exactly a hotbed of traffic congestion. From a minivan in the passing lane doing less than the speed limit, to the fool attempting to back up for a missed exit, I watched idiots cutting into lanes so fast and so close they had to stand on their brakes repeatedly.

I (or any of my colleagues) can write begging people to stay right except to pass. Studies can show you over and over that it’s safer, quicker and calmer. Comment sections will fill up with the same admonitions. Doesn’t matter. A discussion with George Iny of the Automobile Protection Association confirmed as much to me.

“There is a sector of the population, a percentage, which cannot be reached. They do not care, they will not change. It doesn’t matter what they’re driving, or how capable or incapable their car is or they are. You can’t get to them,” he said.

I’ve heard similar statements from police and from instructors. It’s not about education or enlightenment: they simply don’t care. And these road warriors create lousy behaviour in other drivers: if fools are going to keep cutting around me, I’m just going to sit in this middle or passing lane because I feel safer, goes the thinking. I’m not driving poorly – everybody around me is.

There is a feral nature to the driving attitudes on many of our roads. I’ve driven in most parts of Canada and the United States as well as many other countries. While urban centres are predictably the worst, kings of the road are everywhere.

I’m not even driving every day. If I see so much of this, why isn’t law enforcement higher? Do we have too many laws? Do the new safety features that manufacturers keep unveiling allow us to detach from the task at hand? I’m driving a car right now that tells me if I’m too close to the car ahead with an annoyingly loud warning and a Lite-Brite show of red dots. Some cars apply the brakes themselves, if you’re not doing a good enough job.

Some cars have steering wheels that vibrate if you wander from your lane. Some tell you if someone else is too close to you. Are all of these chimes and sensors and bells and whistles creating a false sense that you can disconnect from the road and your car will save you? If you can frequently take your eyes off the road and literally be saved by the bell, how are we going to convince anyone – especially our unreachables – that what they’re doing is deadly?

It’s frustrating for rule followers to watch the rule breakers get away with it, over and over. It’s frustrating to watch the abilities of drivers deteriorate and see technology step into the breach – it’s the right direction for the wrong reason.

The news has been burbling lately with features on driver-less cars, which some think will be the inevitable future. Initially, I shook my head. Who would not want to drive if they could? Who would want to give up that pleasure? Then I remember the traffic terrorists who are fixated on endangering anyone else on the road, and wonder if it can’t come soon enough.


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