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rules of the road

It was one of those moments commuters live for, in contrast to all those bumper-to-bumper events that inspire one to pray for a quick death.

My wife and I were sailing along our favourite expressway, enjoying driving the way it was meant to be: carefree, unfettered by the chains that too often make commuting only slightly more enjoyable than waterboarding.

The reason for this motoring euphoria was the HOV lane, among the greatest automotive inventions after the combustion engine and the heated car seat. The fact that only two people are required to qualify a car for the "high-occupancy" vehicle lane didn't even seem like cheating as we watched all those low-occupancy vehicles crawling along beside us.

But like all Edens, there were snakes; or more pointedly, drivers whose concept of sharing the road is to force everyone else off it.

As we drove at a technically illegal but socially acceptable 10 km/h above the limit, we suddenly became aware of a rather large shadow blocking out the sun. A huge SUV – is there another kind? – filled our rear-view mirror, then threatened to park in our back seat.

After ensuring that the defibrillator was in the glove compartment, I considered my next move. I could speed up, but why risk both a speeding ticket and our lives to accommodate a road hog with possible homicidal tendencies?

Then I contemplated tapping the brakes and flashing one of the many popular hand gestures that are part of the universal language of driving.

But before I could act, he passed me illegally on the right side, giving me one of those "On your way to the seniors' centre?" looks as he zipped by. He may or may not have stroked his goatee and shaken a cloven hoof at me.

In order to learn what would have been the best course of action – at least one not involving firearms – I contacted Teresa Di Felice, who as a driver training director at the Canadian Automobile Association, is infallible on matters of automotive etiquette.

Basically, I did the right thing by not doing anything, she said.

"The HOV lane is not a speeding lane," she said.

"There's nothing requiring you to move just because somebody wants to use that lane to go faster. That's not what it's designed for."

But she added that, had the offender not passed me, I should have waited for the next opportunity to move back into the clogged pipe known as the regular lanes, letting all psychopaths continue on their path to perdition.

"This is not the place to get involved in a game of chicken," she said.

But what happens if the tire were on the other car? Say someone in front of you was apparently part of a one-car funeral procession and going 30 km/h below the limit?

Di Felice advises keeping a safe distance – safe being the key word – and when it's legal to do so – legal being another key word – head back into the regular lanes. When safe, re-enter the HOV, where you can resume driving ecstasy. At least, until the next driver-induced challenge.

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