Dangerous driving habits put everyone at risk

Whitehorse drivers are the worst. Well not really. Wherever you go in this country - be it Vancouver, or Ottawa, or Saskatoon - you will hear the same refrain.

Whitehorse drivers are the worst. Well not really. Wherever you go in this country – be it Vancouver, or Ottawa, or Saskatoon – you will hear the same refrain. “[Insert community name here] drivers are the worst”.

Since it’s impossible that all of these cities have the worst drivers, it is more likely that there are just a lot of bad drivers everywhere.

And when I talk about bad drivers I’m not just talking about speeders. Excessive speed is certainly a danger, but the subject of speeding has been beaten to death in public education campaigns. Those who speed excessively have no doubt heard that what they are doing is dangerous and either don’t care or for whatever reason have not fully processed the message.

Perhaps we need a quick reminder about the danger posed by some of the other bad habits that we have collectively developed over time.

One bad habit that has been of annoyance and concern to me lately as I shuttle my toddler and newborn around the city is our wide scale disregard of the rules regarding the yellow light. To reiterate for those for whom driver’s education is a fading memory, the Yukon Motor Vehicles Act says in part that “[w]hen a yellow light is shown…the driver of a vehicle…shall stop…unless such a stop cannot be made in safety”.

To say that this rule is widely ignored in this community would be an understatement. In fact the rule is probably ignored more often than it is followed. I’m not sure if this is a common problem everywhere but it is certainly here.

There is obviously some grey as to whether a stop can or cannot “be made in safety” and I think most of us can admit to second guessing our split second judgments as we elect to proceed through an intersection we may have been able to stop for. But what is truly shocking is how often in these grey situations we look in our rear view mirrors to see that the person behind us – for whom there should have been no doubt about their ability to stop safely in time – has also decided to proceed.

This practice is particularly dangerous for drivers coming from the opposite direction who are trying to execute left hand turns. Those drivers – who take the yellow light as their cue to clear the intersection and complete their turn – are at risk of being smucked by the offending driver, or (if they are driving defensively and anticipating a fool coming from the other direction) being stuck in the middle of the intersection after the red light has changed.

And speaking of drivers turning left, if there is conclusive proof of our blithe disregard for the yellow light rule it is you. If you have taken possession of the intersection and are waiting for an opening obviously you will need to clear out whether the light is yellow or red. But if you have not yet entered the intersection your stop can, by definition “be made in safety” and you should not be entering the intersection after the light has changed to yellow. A yellow light is not an invitation to see how many more cars can squeeze through before vehicles start going perpendicularly start to move.

Following closely or “tailgating” is another bad habit we should shake. The Motor Vehicles Act says in part that “[n]o driver shall follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent” but that doesn’t stop us.

Having spent some time driving in Ontario, I think Whitehorse drivers deserve some limited praise here: we aren’t as bad as they are. In Ontario, tailgating is the norm. And that is probably because if you leave a car length between yourself and the vehicle in front of you in that province, a car will find a way to fill it.

But being better than drivers in Ontario is setting the bar awfully low. We still have room for improvement and there have been two separate occasions in the past week when a vehicle has followed me far too closely for comfort. For a city that is supposed to be on relaxed “Yukon time” we sure seem eager to arrive at our destination milliseconds earlier by making sure there isn’t much room between ourselves and the vehicle in front of us.

While it doesn’t feel like it, driving is actually one of the riskier activities we go about in our day-to day-lives giving barely a thought to the fact that we are putting ourselves in danger. According to Transport Canada, in 2013 alone there were 1,923 fatalities, and 165,306 injuries – 10,315 of which were serious.

We accept the risk of driving because driving is essential in modern society. With big box stores and sprawling suburbs, getting by without the automobile is extremely difficult. Yes we can ride our bikes or catch public transit, but those alternatives put us on the same roads with the same bad drivers. Unless we become hermits and have our groceries delivered to our homes engaging with traffic is an inevitable part of life.

Some of our local driving habits here in Whitehorse are kind of funny – like the way traffic queues up in the right lane at the lights at Second and Fourth Avenues all the way back to Tags when the left lane is wide open (we don’t do lane changes here.) Others are mildly irritating but probably harmless – like the way many signal left as they make their way through a traffic circle (thanks for the useless information!)

But some of our habits – like disregarding yellow lights and tailgating – are obnoxious and dangerous. We should correct those.

Kyle Carruthers is a born-and-raised Yukoner who lives and practises law in Whitehorse.

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