A different point of view
It’s been written about, it’s been discussed endlessly, and it’s been studied beyond need.
We are all very aware that the traffic congestion in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), is at ridiculous levels.
Today, I’m going to focus on the daily commute, specifically along the 400-series highways, however, the message can be applied to all drivers in the GTA.
There have been many articles written, and studies completed, discussing how to alleviate the traffic congestion in the GTA.
Everything from increased public transit options, to toll roads have been proposed. I don’t believe either of these options will fix the problem.
I believe there are two reasons for the congestion problem we experience. The first can be easily rectified, the second however, requires some co-operation from the general public.
The first cause of congestion is that most drivers have only rudimentary driving skills.
Let’s face it, in Ontario, you can become a licenced driver with the most almost no driving skills whatsoever. We all know someone who is licenced to drive, but can’t back up, can’t parallel park, doesn’t know how to properly change lanes or merge, some drivers can’t even properly pull into a parking spot at their local grocery store.
The current licencing process in Ontario requires you to complete three stages. The first stage involves an eye test followed by a written test, which you can take once you are 16 years of age.
Once you have passed your written test, you are given a G1 licence. It comes with a variety of rules, but essentially, you are required to drive for a year with a licenced driver at your side.
At the conclusion of that year, you take a basic driving test, and if you’re successful, you are given a G2 licence.
Again, the G2 licence comes with a variety of rules, but the main difference is that you can now drive without a licenced driver at your side. One year later, you can take another road test, and if you’re successful, you become a fully licenced driver in Ontario.
Does anyone see the flaw in this process? At what point do we TEACH people how to be good drivers?
Yes, the province does have recognized driving schools, and they offer a minor incentive if you take these driving lessons, but it’s not mandatory. The result is we end up with drivers who have learned to drive from a friend, family member, or through a few very basic driving lessons.
The provinces graduated licencing system is better than what came before it, but why are new drivers not forced to take advanced driving lessons?
At a minimum, all drivers should be comfortable driving in all weather conditions, changing lanes, taking evasive action safely, and driving in reverse.
If you can’t drive your car down the street in reverse, you need more training. If the thought of putting your car into a tailspin, and then getting out of it, scares you to death, you need more training. If you can’t park your car, you really need more training.
This lack of skill leads to another action that creates a great deal of congestion, needless braking.
Obviously there are times when braking is required, but there are many instances where simply taking your foot off the gas pedal will slow you down sufficiently. Remember, every time you needlessly apply your brake, you force the driver behind you to do the same, creating a chain reaction that causes congestion.
These may sound like unrealistic expectations, but they really aren’t.
These skills are easily learned by taking a more advanced drivers training course. Before everyone starts complaining about the cost, allow me to point out a few things.
First, driving is a privilege, not a right. As a society, we should demand that drivers be properly trained as it would make everyone safer.
Second, Driving is an expensive endeavour. If the price of the more advanced training, between $500 and $1000, is too costly, then perhaps you shouldn’t be driving.
How many times have you seen someone driving along Highway 401 in an $80,000 SUV, but it’s obvious they don’t have any skills. People are willing to spend tens-of-thousands of dollars on a vehicle, but not a fraction of that amount to learn a skill that will not only benefit them, but every driver on the road.
This is why it needs to be mandated.
As a province, we have decided to make people wait until they are 19 years of age to drink alcohol, presumably because we don’t think younger people are responsible enough to handle everything that goes along with drinking alcohol.
Yet, by the time you are 17 years old, you’re allowed to drive a 2000 pound vehicle down the road at high speeds, without any formal training.
Does this make sense to anyone?
Is it any wonder so many drivers are killed on our roads each year?
The government can easily fix this issue, but it’s not in their interest to do so.
Think about how much money the provincial government collects with each new driver. First there are all the fees to become licenced. Then, once you’re licenced, you’re obligated to buy insurance, which is taxed.
If you’re driving, you need gas, more tax money. Because you’re young, and not skilled, you’re likely to be involved in a collision. The repairs are taxed, and your insurance premium will likely increase, which means more tax.
Don’t forget the licence, and sticker renewals that all drivers are forced to pay. If you bought a car to drive, there are taxes to be paid on the purchase, as well as any regular maintenance, or repairs your vehicle requires.
Let’s not even get into the whole “Drive Clean” program which is just a massive cash grab.
As you can see, every new driver is a cash cow for the provincial government. There’s absolutely no incentive for the government to make it more difficult to become licenced, nor is it in their best interest to make you a more skilled driver.
The second cause of congestion is Ego. That’s right, if we could eliminate all the ego based driving, traffic would run more smoothly.
Let’s get something out of way, the left lane is the passing lane, not the “fast lane,” and the right hand lane is not the “slow lane.” This simple change in thinking can lead to improved traffic flow on its own.
By calling it the fast lane we have created a situation where drivers’ egos are affected. No one wants to drive in the slow lane, everyone wants to be in the fast lane, regardless of their speed, or skill set.
We’ve all seen this ridiculous behaviour on the roads, and I’m sure some of you have even contributed to the problem.
Behaviour such as: refusing to move to the right when a faster vehicle comes up behind you, refusing to allow a vehicle to merge, or speeding up to prevent someone from changing lanes in front of you.
We’ve all heard about the “aggressive driver.”
That driver who is constantly changing lanes, weaving in and out of traffic. What if we look at it from a different point of view? Perhaps that aggressive driver is actually a very skilled driver.
They are comfortable changing lanes, and accelerating through the traffic.
Think about this|: if all the cars on the road drove in their appropriate lanes, then the aggressive driver wouldn’t have all that open space to weave in and out.
The fact that there is open space, and the aggressive driver is passing people on the right, indicates that drivers are not driving in the proper lane. If everyone moved to the right, the aggressive driver would have room in the passing lane to pass slower traffic, and wouldn’t be forced to weave in and out of lanes to accomplish the same goal.
If everyone drove with some courtesy, and respect for each other, traffic flow would improve dramatically. Follow these simple rules, and you’ll be amazed at the difference:
1. Unless you are actively passing someone, don’t use the left lane.
2. If you’re being passed by someone on your right, you’re in the wrong lane. Keep moving to the right until you are no longer being passed on the right.
3. Allow drivers to merge. Slow down, speed up, or change lanes, to allow them the space they need to merge safely.
4. Allow other drivers to change lanes, it really won’t make a difference to your commute time.
Highway 401 runs from the Quebec border to Windsor, from one end of southern Ontario to the other.
Theoretically, there are only two reasons the passing lane along the 401 should ever be stopped. The first is some sort of physical blockage like an accident, construction, or large item blocking the lane.
The second is if the entire lane, from Windsor to Quebec was full of bumper to bumper traffic. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is unlikely, leaving physical blockage as the only option.
Why then, is the passing lane stopped every day for hours on end? The answer is poor driving skills, and poor road manners.
My two solutions to congestion are easy to implement, and will vastly improve our roads.
Let’s all do our part to help ease congestion.