Canadians are really bad drivers

How bad can Canada’s worst driver be? Are we really that terrible when it comes to driving skills?

A few years ago I was invited to audition as the “driving expert” for the Discovery Channel show appropriately called “Canada’s Worst Driver”. This show turned the above two questions into a “reality TV” contest.

I’m no fan of reality TV, mainly because the shows are usually devoid of any “reality”. Contestants are aware they are being filmed, and they ham it up to get the most attention. Add some encouragement from the producers to spice up the action and it soon becomes standard Hollywood dreck.

I turned down the part and basically told the producers that I didn’t want to be involved in reality TV or associated with the negativity surrounding the poorly trained drivers they were showcasing. It is not an image I, or our advanced driving school, want to be connected with.

More: Canada’s ‘worst drivers’ heading to St. Catharines

More: Drive right, pass left. Why don’t drivers get it?

Having said that, I observed the driving skills, or lack thereof, of the contestants and I was horrified that these motorists actually possessed a driver’s licence. It’s a scary thought that these people actually share the road with us.

But it shouldn’t really come as a surprise given our low testing and licensing standards. When you look at it, you can argue that many Canadians really are bad drivers.

The numbers say it. Over 95 per cent of collisions and crashes are avoidable. That means driver error. Not poor weather conditions. Not equipment failure and not bad roads. In each case, the driver or drivers involved either made a mistake or simply did not know how to avoid or correct the situation. I read one statistic that suggests 50 per cent of our population will be involved in at least one vehicle crash in their lifetime. The U.S.-based NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) says vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages 3 to 33! They also show that 40 per cent of all fatal crashes are single vehicle crashes and that applies regardless of vehicle size.

Other drivers have a lot to say about bad driving, too. I wish I had a dollar for every person who has complained to me about other drivers. I could rival Michael Schumacher for income. Motorists from Europe regularly comment on the poor lane discipline and lack of skills demonstrated by Canadian drivers.

Automotive engineers say it. They are not designing new vehicles with Stability Control, ABS Brakes, traction control, crumple zones and expensive air bag systems because they are bored. These safety features are built into vehicles to compensate for poor driving. Even with the technology of “computer aided driving”, vehicles are still being crashed by drivers at an alarming rate.

Yes, there are some good drivers on our roads. They, however, are greatly out-numbered by those who either do not know how to drive well or those who do not care. The good drivers you will not notice, but the poor ones really stand out. They are the ones who cut you off, tail gate, block traffic flow, fail to communicate (signal turns etc.), lane-hop, fail to merge safely; I could go on and on.

The worst drivers on our roads are not limited to one particular type of vehicle, class, race or gender, either. They drive tractor trailers, taxis, SUVs, pick-up trucks, mini vans, luxury cars, sports cars and even Corvettes. Most believe they are good drivers.

My detailed observations have led me to conclude that drivers lack the skills necessary to reduce collision and crashes. Years of interviewing parents and teens about advanced driver training has given me a unique insight into the perspective of motorists. Most drivers sincerely believe it is always the “other” driver who is in need of help.

Our poor driving boils down mostly to two main problems: Ignorance and selfishness.

The ignorance part of the equation can be further broken down to lack of knowledge regarding rules of the road, a deficiency of common sense and a lack of awareness that our driving has with regards to others around us. Few drivers seem to understand a simple rule even when it is printed on a large sign in black and white at the side of the road.

Here is but one example. A few years ago I studied a section of Hwy. 7 just east of Lake Ridge Rd. north of Whitby. This particular section has a long uphill section if you are travelling west on Hwy. 7. The Ministry has built a third lane to facilitate the passing of slower vehicles. On the right shoulder of the road resides a large sign that clearly tells motorists to keep right unless passing. By my count, only 7 per cent of drivers used the right lane when not passing another vehicle. Some drivers were forced to pass slower vehicles by using the right lane.

The same survey on Hwy. 48 southbound just south of Mount Albert Rd. showed an increase in compliance. As with Hwy. 7, this road has a third lane to ease passing on the long uphill grade. Here 38 per cent of the drivers used the right lane when not passing. The others simply drove up the left lane without passing anyone. The difference in the two locations was simply lane markings.

On Hwy. 7, the lane markings tend to funnel the traffic into the left lane despite the sign informing drivers to keep right. On Hwy. 48, the lane markings lead traffic over to the right. This accounts for the higher percentage of motorists obeying the keep-right law.

What do these observations suggest?

1. Drivers are ignorant of the Highway Traffic Act. 2. They are not seeing important signs on the side of the road. 3. They are blocking others from passing in a safe zone in either direction. 4. They follow lane markings like sheep. These are all poor driving practices and if they can not be attributed to ignorance, they fall under selfishness. In the latter case, these drivers simply do not care that they are having a negative impact on our driving safety.

Either way, there is no excuse for such bad driving behaviour. If drivers do not know or understand the rules of the road, we must educate them better. If drivers simply do not care about their actions, we either need to help them understand the consequences of their selfishness and change their attitude or prevent them from driving.

Poor drivers are only a product of our inefficient driver training programs and our low standards of licensing. Traffic deaths, injuries, disabilities, economic losses and wasted time can all be greatly reduced. All we need to do is upgrade our standards. Driving is a privilege and not a “right”. You must earn the benefit of this form of rapid transportation and freedom by showing a level of skill and responsibility.

Very little has changed over the past half century regarding education and testing. It was only adequate for traffic conditions back then. Now, we suffer through the busiest roads in North America with hundreds of thousands of vehicles more sharing the same roads. While both vehicle and road design have improved by leaps and bounds in terms of safety since then, the drivers have not improved.

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