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Left-turn lights a sign of the nanny state?

Published July 24, 2012
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How much risk is acceptable for society? That is, to what extent should the state protect us from ourselves?

If you’re not familiar with the term “emancipated minor,” it refers to a child whom the courts have determined is fit to make decisions for themselves and live and act independently, just as if they were an adult.

What does this have to do with driving and risks to society?

I’ve noticed that legislators often face emergent road safety matters with a knee-jerk overreaction, then some sensibility returns and, finally, if we’re lucky, things reach the “emancipated driver” stage.

For example, when Highway 7 was a dark, rural road in the 1980s, it had a second set of traffic lights just for left-turn drivers at many small intersections in Markham and Vaughan. Turning drivers got the green while through traffic waited, then vice-versa.

When the highway was widened in the 1990s, the secondary left-turn lights were eliminated. At about the same time, a wave of new Canadians, many of whom were also new drivers, immigrated to the area. These novice drivers caused an alarming spike in serious and fatal left-turn collisions, so back came the secondary left-turn signals.

Now, I’m all for safety, but when you prohibit drivers from performing a routine, basic, fundamental driving maneuver (left turn) there will be a backlash. The dedicated turn lights infuriated drivers who now couldn’t proceed when through traffic had the green and it was perfectly safe to turn.

In recent years, the highway was again expanded, but this time left-turn drivers re-acquired the freedom to make left-turn decisions, as they do at all other intersections, with the removal of the dedicated left-turn lights. So, it seems, we’ve come full circle with road authorities deciding that emancipated drivers should have the right to make routine driving decisions for themselves, even if a scant few might make poor ones.

A somewhat similar situation also occurred at the intersection of Elgin Mills Road and Yorkland/Enford in Richmond Hill. A dual left-turn lane was added for southbound traffic turning into the two lanes of Elgin Mills eastbound, so a “no right turn on red” sign was posted for approaching northbound traffic to avoid turning lane conflicts.

However, the sign not only stopped right-on-red turns when oncoming dual-left turners were moving during their advance green, but also when all north/south traffic had the red.

Annoyed that right turns were barred even when no lane-conflict hazard whatsoever existed, which was most of the time, I complained to the roads department. Apparently, someone in authority agreed that most of us are capable of making safe, sensible driving decisions and away went the “no right turn on red” sign.

Recently, the town added a cautionary “yield to turning traffic” sign for northbound traffic, which serves the intended purpose all along but without unduly delaying traffic movement, and that’s just fine by me. In fact, it makes a lot of sense.

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