It was summertime, maybe 2 or 3 years ago. Thundershowers were in the forecast, and as we travelled westbound on the QEW, the ominous grey skies opened up and let loose with a heavy downpour typical of our hot, humid summers.
I noticed a driver ahead of me switch on their hazard lights while continuing to maintain their speed of about 90 km/h. The motorist behind them quickly did the same. Then another followed suit, and another, and another.
Soon enough almost every car was driving with their emergency 4-way flashers blinking away in unison, like the world’s biggest funeral procession, rendering everyone’s turn signals effectively useless. A loose grasp of fundamental driving rules was displayed that day, but the province itself might have something to do with it.
Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act is vague on the correct use of hazard lights and the MTO Driver’s handbook mentions when to use them under a few circumstances, but the general consensus on proper usage is fraught with controversy, misinformation and like the example on that rainy day, it’s apparent that people will blindly follow each other not really knowing why they’re doing what they’re doing.
The following are 6 common driving mistakes most are guilty of committing at one time or another. No one is perfect, but being more aware of your driving and how it affects others motorists around you is the first step to a safer experience on the roads.
Improper use of Hazard lights
I hope you’re not surprised that I’m starting with this one, but it’s one that I see done incorrectly—all the time.
As I mentioned earlier, the Highway Traffic Act is rather vague on the subject, not really outlining the proper times they should be used. Theoretically, you can drive with them on all day long, but then you might get a ticket for failure to use a turn signal, so there’s that.
The only time hazard lights should be used is when pulled over at a roadside for any reason, or during an emergency situation, say when you have a mechanical failure or sudden loss of tire pressure and have to bring the vehicle to a safe stop.
Driving with a mattress loosely tied to the roof, a trunk barely held closed using a couple of 20-year old bungee cords, rain, snow, slippery roads, not knowing where you’re going—none of these are reasons to use hazard lights. Not having the ability to indicate a directional change is unsafe and a hazard of its own. If you’re not already stopped at the side of the road or slowing to a stop, they should not be turned on.
While Ontario is not very clear on these 4 flashing lights, many other provinces and countries are, and their use is usually only warranted under the conditions stated above.
Signaling a lane change too early
On the road, indicators are one of the few methods of communication we have with each other; they are vital to driving safety and are used improperly all the time.
This is one of the most common occurrences out there and usually doesn’t so much indicate a lack of skill, but rather a lack of driving etiquette that is in short supply these days. You know, actually acknowledging your fellow driver and not just thinking of them as someone in your way.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been passing another vehicle just to see their turn signal flash on as I approach their blind spot.
This is the motorist that signals first and looks second, the opposite of what you should be doing. In many cases, it’s an honest mistake but this behavior can startle other drivers approaching from behind, making them believe you have not seen them and can easily collide with them when switching lanes.
Just like they teach you in driving school, the best practice is to look first, make sure the lane you want to switch into is clear, then signal, and make the change. Easy.
Driving too slow
Driving too fast can be dangerous, but driving too slow can be worse. The culprit? Speed differential.
We’ve all seen that motorist on the highway driving well below the 100 km/h limit. Not only does it cause unnecessary congestion, it’s unsafe and just plain annoying.
And with the average pace of traffic moving a fair bit faster than Ontario’s slightly outdated speed limits, that differential thing becomes a much bigger factor, and the resulting collisions often much worse.
It’s always safest to drive with the flow of traffic.
Driving in the left lane of the highway
This is another one that’s sure to drum up a bit of controversy. Driving in the left lane on any divided limited access highway is wrong. Period.
Drivers should drive on the right and leave the left open for passing. If a faster moving vehicle is approaching from behind, move out of their way.
Ontario might be a bit lax on the issue, and even though there is a provision for it in the Highway Traffic Act (sec 147), it is rarely, if ever, enforced.
Provinces like B.C and Quebec are more enlightened and routinely hand out fines to drivers dawdling in the left, usually oblivious to the queue of frustrated motorists they have single-handedly created behind them.
In countries like Germany, there are steep fines and license suspensions for offenders.
This example of poor lane etiquette is quickly followed by retaliatory measures from fellow motorists: tailgating, passing on the right, inflamed tempers, erratic driving and a general disruption of traffic flow. It really isn’t worth it, drive on the right, pass on the left. Simple rules all should live by.
I think I see this motorist more often than “signals too early”, although in this case the make and model of vehicle can play a role. While it’s still a driver’s responsibility to ensure their full lighting system is switched on when the sun goes down, electro-luminescent or “day glow” gauge clusters remain bright day or night and can cause drivers to forget to switch on those lights. Couple that with the light from mandatory DRLs and it’s a bad recipe for these “ninja cars” we see obliviously prowling our streets.
Probably the worst thing about this is there is no easy way to tell another driver that their headlights are off, without scaring them away.
The solution? Automatic headlights should be standard equipment across the board; when it’s dark, headlights come on. No switch necessary.
Airbags and stability control have become required equipment. Why can’t this?
What are some of the mistakes that bug you?
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