A wide variety of problems on our highways contribute to making driving a difficult and trying endeavour on most days.
And for the professionals who make a living behind the wheel, those problems can even make for a hard day’s work.
Overcrowding of our road system, the poor condition of major highways and plain bad manners top my list of grievances.
Recently, I had the opportunity to drive on some highways in France and couldn’t help but notice remarkable differences in “highway manners” when compared to those of North American drivers.
One of the first things a person will notice is that on many stretches, the speed limit on French highways is 130 km/h.
The most common speed limit on similar highways in Canada is 100 km/h, with the occasional route at 110 km/h.
It took some adjusting for me to get comfortable with the 130 km/h limit, but not as much as one might have thought.
Before long I was keeping pace with the locals, and while moving along with the traffic it was easy to observe some clear differences in their driving habits when compared to those of North American drivers, and to witness how well the practice of sharing the road can work.
One such difference is the way in which drivers observe what Canadian officials term “lane discipline.”
On the French highways the outside lane is used for passing, not for hanging around.
While I was pushing my little rented Citroen along in an inside lane I was regularly overtaken by larger, faster cars, all of which promptly moved back to the inside lane once they were safely around me, leaving the outside lane for the next vehicle that wanted to move faster than the crowd.
A couple of years ago I participated in a road safety committee organized by Ontario’s former transportation minister.
There were a number of associations and other safety and enforcement personnel on the committee, and we were charged with exploring ways in which Ontario’s roads could be made safer and to make specific recommendations to the minister.
I recall some senior enforcement officers on the committee voicing their concern with the lack of lane discipline on Ontario’s highways.
They described it as a principal cause of aggressive driving and road rage, and urged us to raise the visibility of lane discipline as a safety issue in our recommendations.
The officers felt that an educational program to explain proper lane usage could be enormously beneficial.
Drivers camped out in the passing lane, or in some cases in the middle lane, routinely clog up the highways, leading to frustration on the part of other drivers and in some cases to those frustrated drivers taking risks that lead to accidents and fatalities.
The officers on that committee lauded the European model of lane discipline and advocated a campaign to convert our drivers to that model.
Unfortunately, the recommendation was never acted on and we still deal with drivers who will not yield the passing lane.
I confess that at the time I didn’t see the problem as being quite as serious as the officials described.
Sure, I had experienced being held up by someone who wouldn’t move over and was impeding my trip to wherever, but it seemed more of a minor and temporary inconvenience than anything else.
But now, having reviewed in my mind the comments and recommendations made by those enforcement officials, and having witnessed first hand how well lane discipline works, I’m more inclined to agree with them.
This is a subject that is well worth the attention of transportation ministers across the country.
Ontario has regular blitzes on its 400-series highways throughout the summer months.
These generally take place on long weekends and the following week’s newspapers and radio stories cover in some detail reports of the speeders that were caught and the wrecks that were pulled off the road.
But I don’t recall any emphasis being placed on proper lane usage.
Wouldn’t this be something that could easily be included in the promotion and in the actualization of these blitzes?
After all, the police would like to see more lane discipline and it is the police that is running the weekend blitz.
How about an extended educational campaign promoting the benefits of proper lane discipline, and then some enforcement of the policy?
Perhaps we need to listen more closely when enforcement officials are giving us the benefit of their experience – at least in this instance they knew exactly what they were talking about. n
– The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada is the only national association dedicated to the private trucking community. This column presents opinions on trucking issues from the perspective of private carriers. Comments can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org