Saturday, February 17, 2018

Opinion: It’s time to rethink how we enforce the rules of the road Mulling over bright lights, red lights, roundabouts and ICBC Vancouver Courier February 15, 2018

      Every once in a while my columns generate a lot of feedback. This is one of them. Check out some of the comments I have received following the column.
      Have you noticed vehicle headlights getting brighter?At first, I thought the problem was my advancing years. But having been recently blinded by a shiny new Mercedes driving down Blenheim Street, I pulled over and Googled “are car headlights too bright?” I was pleased to read I am not the only one concerned about the intensity of new headlights.
      From an online forum: “Is it my eyes or are some car headlights too bright?” And the LA Times: “It’s not your imagination, headlights are getting brighter.”
      From the UK Daily Mail: “Wondering why headlights are so painfully blinding?”
      From CBS in New York: “Drivers say bright headlights are creating a dangerous situation.”
      At a time when car accidents and insurance rates are in the news, I can’t help but believe blinding headlights may be causing some accidents.
      My wife and I both drive cars with bright new headlights. I know because occasionally drivers flash their high beams assuming I’m on high beams, when I am not.
      As we debate how best to reduce vehicle accidents and insurance costs, I hope ICBC will investigate whether blinding headlights are causing not only discomfort for motorists, but also accidents.
      Blinding headlights are not my only traffic concern.
      No doubt due to increasing traffic congestion and longer commutes, an increasing number of drivers are running red lights.
      At the same time, many motorists oppose installation of more red-light cameras, or 24-hour operation of the 140 cameras currently in place at the province’s most accident-prone intersections.
That’s right. Currently, many red-light cameras are only operated six hours a day since previous governments did not want to upset voters.
      Listening to a recent radio phone-in program, I was disturbed by how many listeners opposed red-light cameras, even at dangerous intersections. Presumably, they equate them with photo radar, which was often viewed as a cash cow, rather than accident prevention.
      Given the increasing number of traffic accidents and fatalities, and yes, increasing insurance costs, I think it is time to rethink our attitudes towards enforcing the rules of the road.
      Perhaps we should follow the lead of Scotland and implement a safety camera program that operates both speed and red-light cameras across the country. Scottish red-light cameras are programed to not only catch those running red lights, but also speeding drivers.
      This brings me to an alternative to intersections and red lights. Traffic roundabouts and circles.
Having lived in the U.K. and driven in many European countries, I am a fan of roundabouts. I even installed two at SFU’s UniverCity. However, every time I approach a small Vancouver traffic circle, which is essentially a glorified uncontrolled intersection, I worry whether oncoming drivers know who has the right-of-way.
      In case you are not sure, if two vehicles arrive at a traffic circle or roundabout at the same time, the vehicle on the right has the right to enter first. Cyclists should be treated like a vehicle.
The recent revelations about increased traffic accidents and major ICBC losses due to injury claims were very disturbing. They were also somewhat surprising.
      Since cars are increasingly designed with safety in mind, with multiple air bags, back-up cameras and side mirror warnings, I would have expected the number of injuries to be reduced.
However, I have also observed that many motorists do not appear to know how to drive properly. They stay in the passing lane and refuse to pull over to allow other motorists to pass. While they may not be in accidents, they cause accidents.
      Others take little notice of upcoming pedestrian crossings, refuse to stop before turning right on a red light, and seem to have forgotten the concept of “defensive driving.”
      One solution may be more regular road testing for drivers. My generation hasn’t been tested since the 1960s. Perhaps it should be mandatory for anyone deemed to have caused a serious accident to be re-tested before they can drive again.
      If Motor Vehicle Testing Stations do not have adequate capacity for more regular road tests, ICBC could set up independent accredited testers.
      While no doubt many will see this as just another cash grab, I see it as a way to make driving safer.
From David Faber, Vancouver (who advocates retesting every 5 years for those between 25 and 75 and annually for those under 25 and over 75)
    I read with great interest your article in the lastest Vancouver Courier.
    I was hit by a car on my bicycle in the fall of 2015 a few  blocks from where I live. i was on a designated bike route(East45th Avenue) and the driver was going faster than the posted speed limit. Interesting  he had been in Canada for 6 years but was still driving with an out of country license.
     I contacted lots of people including municipal, provinicial and federal reps but got little response.
     I will forward you an email I sent Nicholas Simons back in 2013. In it is what I feel would be a great move to clear the streets of inexperienced and uneducated motor vehicle drivers. This could also be a good revenue generator for ICBC.
      To give you a bit of a history. I started driving in 1970 when I turned 16 in Alberta. Our family business was about distribution and as soon as I got my license I was behind the wheel. In my life I have put more than 1.75million km on the road in the 48 years of driving. Yes and been in accidents where some have been my fault and some not my fault.
       In 1981 I worked in Northern Alberta for Nova a pipeline company. They had a policy that if an employee got a motor vehicle into an accident be it car, truck, back-hoe, ski-doo etc, you had to go back to Calgary and take a two week safe drivers course and pass both the written and road test. It happened to me and when I went back in the class was labourers, skid operators, landscapers and office personnel including a couple of executives.
       We had to go out with the instructor for a pre-class road test and then were given our results. I was amazed at how many bad habits I had accumulated in the 10 years of driving. After taking the refresher course and passing the tests I have tried to keep my driving bad habits out of the picture.
        Yes, retesting should happen every 5 years for those between  the ages of 25 and 75 and annually for those under 25 and over 75.
    Talk soon. David F(devo) Faber
From a former Vancouver bus driver
Hello Michael,
     I retired as a trolley bus driver in Vancouver eight years ago, after almost 41 years behind the wheel. I worked evenings most of the time, and car headlights were starting to bother me a few years before I retired. When I started on the job in 1969, an oncoming car with high-beams on would dim their lights 9 times out of 10 when I gave a quick flash of my high-beams. Now it is reversed, and very few motorists will dim their lights. In fact, it is often hard to tell if it is high or low beam, because the LED lights are so intense. I drive a 1999 Subaru Forester with conventional lights, and I almost never have oncoming cars flash their high-beams at me.
     New cars now have head lights and running lights that don’t even look like a headlight. Some have designs in LED lights, and a particular model has front marker lights above the headlights that look like eyebrows, and angry ones at that. There is an animated film set to the music of Autobahn, by Kraftwerk, put out over forty years ago. There are cars that have angry faces, and I can’t help but think someone got the idea of these marker lights from that film. Cue the video at 5:30 and you’ll see what I mean:
     A new problem is that while stopped at a red traffic signal at night, the LED brake lights of the car in front can be so bright that I have to shield my eyes.
     I have driven in many cities on various trips, including Boston, Manhattan, Melbourne Australia, and New Zealand. Everyone says: "Oh, our drivers are the worst.” But it is all relative to each place. Seattleites complain that Vancouver drivers are “pushy”, among other things. But you just have to adapt to each place.
     Once a week on Mondays I drive Highway 1 to Chilliwack mid-day. So what is wrong with Highway 1, other than a few insta-merges, and a lack of guard rails? Not much really. But the drivers are anything but defensive. The right lane has traffic generally at about 100 km/hr, and the passing lane is more like 115 to 120. But with heavy volume, the cars are all travelling at those speeds one car length apart, or less. This includes trucks. Throw into this equation those motorists who are travelling at 160, 180 or more, changing lanes frequently, and the slightest miscalculation ends in smashups. I often smell the nitro charger fumes on these cars as they pass.
     Last October I spent six days with a friend from Toronto visiting cities in Ohio, and most of our   travel was on interstate freeways. The speed limit on most roads was 60 to 70 mph, and we  were amazed to see compliance. There just wasn’t anyone speeding the way we see here and on Highway 401 in Ontario. But Ohio has a Highway Patrol that I would not like to have to deal with. They were patrolling constantly, and at one point just north of Dayton there were eight police cars lined up together on the shoulder at right angles to the highway.
     Another thing that leads to accidents is the visitor, unfamiliar with the city and its oddities. Vancouver has some of the smallest road advisory signs I have seen. And some are posted too late to be of use.  Sincerely,  AM.
From Bev, another Courier reader
Dear Michael;
      I wonder why you would blame vehicle crashes (not accidents since they are intentional), on bright lights when the truth is that drivers do what they do because they can. There is no enforcement against bad driving, the infrastructure favours drivers and the penalties are too low if they are even applied.
      You are right about ICBC. The good guys pay too much and the bad guys pay too little.
      The police can be six feet from a serious driver infraction and claim that they saw nothing. They, like the Mayor, say that walkers and cyclists should ask permission to cross the road by making eye contact. Peds. need to be sure to wear strobe lights as well.
      Drivers are increasingly aggressive and entitled. Lots of data supports that fact. Drivers think they should have exclusive use of the asphalt at all times and resent any other mode accessing “their” space. They rarely stop at an intersection without a light. They accelerate and honk if a person dares to cross in front of them. And they do it because they can.
      Driving is serious business. It is the driver’s job to pay attention to every thing at all times. Most Canadian drivers would not get a license in Europe or Great Britain.
      Drivers are at fault in conflicts with pedestrians 88% or the time, with motor cyclists 75%, and cyclists 70ish%.
      The Mayor et al brag that pedestrian deaths are down. They are down because of the health care system, not because of better driving. I bet lots of those who were saved would rather have died than be in the shape they are in now. An average of 600 walkers per year are hit. That number has not gone down.
      Engineers can fool around improving the infrastructure in the name of safety for drivers like wider turning radii, wider, smoother roads and left bays which in the end remove responsibility from the driver and let them go farther, faster more conveniently at the expense of walkers, cyclist and transit users.
      Enforcement and punishment are the only things that will change behaviour. They are great educators.
      I always enjoy your columns. Although sometimes I wonder about your density/planning points. We ghettoize the rich from the poor. Diverse housing stock would increase managed density and a diverse demographic across the city which in turn should produce better social and environmental outcomes.
      Yours truly,  Bev

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