Driving and drivers

Motorcycles are invisible

There’s a fascinating video over on YouTube, posted by someone using the handle FortNine, which explains why failing to notice motorcycles is so common, and provides some advice on improving your awareness of motorcycles when driving.

Highly recommended.

I would only add one thing, which is not specifically about motorcycles, but is related, and important: you should always come to a complete stop at intersections. When you do that, the rest of the world (relative to you) stops moving, and makes it much easier to see objects that are in motion. Including motorcycles. And pets. And children. Get yourself into the habit. It may save a life.

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If your horn sounds when you set your alarm, you are an asshole

It’s happened twice in the last couple of weeks. After parking my car in a busy parking lot, while walking to my destination, someone sets their car alarm at the very moment when I’m walking past their car. Car horns are meant to be loud. Truck horns are even louder. They are meant to be heard above traffic noise. As you might imagine, I nearly jumped out of my skin both times this happened.

It gets worse. No matter where I happen to live, there are always one or two people who live nearby and, arriving home from work in the middle of the night, blithely set their car alarm, generating at least one, and as many as three horn honks. One honk is bad enough in the otherwise dead silent — and mostly sleeping — neighboorhood. I can only imagine that the three honks are just the perpetrator’s desire to make absolutely certain that the alarm is set. Like pressing that lit elevator button repeatedly.

There are a few reasons why someone might inflict this kind of annoyance on innocent and unsuspecting people. First, there’s the old standby: they just don’t give a shit. They may have wondered if the noise might bother people, but they simply don’t care enough to do anything about it.

Second, they may find amusement or even joy in the prospect of bothering people. Don’t kid yourself; people like this exist. On the Internet, they’re called trolls.

But by far the most likely reason is plain ignorance. It seems that people simply don’t realize that they can change their car alarm configuration to disable the honking, and instead use an inaudible cue, such as flashing their car’s lights, to indicate alarm status. Depending on the manufacturer, there may be other options, such as a much quieter beeping sound.

This is a plea, to all owners of vehicles with alarms:

1. Unless there is a specific reason not to, please disable the horn honk when you set or disengage your alarm. Hint: there is no valid reason to leave the horn sound enabled. This Google search should get you started: https://www.google.com/search?q=car+alarm+disable+horn.

2. DO NOT enable your alarm when you are traveling on a ferry. It’s completely pointless, and the motion of the ferry will set off your alarm, repeatedly, over the entire trip. People who are unwilling (or unable) to leave their vehicles during the trip will be serenaded by your idiotic alarm the entire time.

UPDATE 2022Nov01: Like many other people, I’ve noticed that the worst culprits on the ferry are BMWs and Audis — basically, high-end vehicles. These things have “advanced” alarms that respond to movement inside the car and when the car is tilted to the side. And of course their alarms are incredibly, ear-splittingly loud. According to this article, many drivers simply don’t know how to disable these features. Terrific.

3. Consider disabling your alarm completely. Studies have shown that they are utterly ineffective anyway.

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A very bad idea

October 13, 2016, 9:36am, Burnaby, BC. A person with a loaded shopping cart wants to cross all six lanes of Kingsway, busy with the morning rush. Incredibly, someone driving in the center lane ahead of me decides to stop and let the person cross. There’s just one problem: nobody else can see what’s going on. I notice only at the last moment, soon enough to avoid the person crossing if they had been dumb enough to continue.

Watch the top of the video starting at about 0:08, just beyond the long row of stopped cars in the lane to my right.

(Sorry about the weird camera angle. Someone tilted the camera and I failed to notice earlier.)

In the rear view, I watched as the crosser sensibly retreated.
Meanwhile, the cop in the car ahead of me either didn’t notice, or didn’t care, neither of which makes them look good.

Drivers: please don’t stop for pedestrians crossing busy streets unless
you know for sure all other drivers can see them.

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It’s only a matter of time

… before the tiny woman driving the enormous white Hummer that drove me off the road yesterday kills someone. I was southbound on Fraser Road in Vancouver, and the Hummer was in the left lane, beside me and slightly ahead. Without any warning (like, you know, a signal or something), the Hummer veered into my lane, surprising me enough that the only thing I could do was stamp on the brakes and steer towards the curb. Seeing no reaction at all from the driver of the Hummer, I followed it for a couple of blocks and pulled up beside it. I could barely see the driver’s head through the side window. How can she drive that thing without being able to see anything? How did she get a license? I shudder to imagine what it would look like to see her try to park that thing. Anyway, I gave her a big ironic ‘thumbs up’ and left her to presumably wonder what I meant. Well, she’ll figure it out sooner or later when she maims or kills someone.

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Worst driver ever

It’s been a while since I posted here, but for this, I just had to.

So I’m driving on a highway, limit 90 km/h. Traffic is moderately heavy. I’m in the right lane, doing about 10 k over the limit like everyone else. Suddenly, the car ahead of me applies the brakes. Not hard, but he’s definitely slowing. I slow down to avoid  rear-ending him, and I see that the cars ahead of him are also slowing. I figure maybe someone has slowed to pull over and everyone will get back up to speed shortly. But I was wrong.

With cars in the left lane now whizzing past, the right lane comes to a complete stop. I poke my head out of the window, and I can just see a car, about ten cars in front of me, stopped and signalling left. I’m starting to worry now, because stopping on a highway is an extraordinarily bad idea, and I know that it’s just a matter of time before someone gets rear-ended and we maybe get a chain reaction pile-up.

I hear the cars between me and the idiot at the front of the right lane honking, and some of them start looking for openings in the left lane traffic to get around this idiot. Cars are building up behind me now too, and some of them are trying to get into the left lane as well, but traffic there is steady. Eventually, there are holes, and people in front of and behind me start filling them.

Of course, those holes are what the idiot at the front was waiting for, because what she really wanted was to make a left turn. She stopped because she didn’t want to miss her turn. She didn’t pull over. She didn’t keep driving until she found a safe place to turn around. No. She stopped dead in the middle of a highway.

Eventually she forced herself into the left lane, and from there into a turning lane, and made her left turn. I was screaming in disbelief and disgust at this point, and so were many of the drivers around me. I witnessed a lot of wild gesticulating as well, and a lot of exaggerated head shaking. And so we all moved on. I waved at the idiot, in a non-friendly way, though I doubt she noticed.

Incredibly, we all emerged from this incident unscathed. I believe that nine times out of ten, this kind of thing would lead to one or more collisions, and possibly serious injury. In a way, I was almost sorry nobody collided, because I would have enjoyed enormously providing excellent testimony in the idiot’s dangerous driving trial. This person should not be driving, and I worry that she shares the road with my parents. It’s only a matter of time before she causes a serious accident.

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Not the worst driver ever, but close

Driving  to work this morning, I came to a crosswalk with a red light, so I stopped.  Most crosswalks here use stop lights that point in two directions along the road being crossed (as opposed to regular stop lights that point in four or more directions).  These lights flash green until a pedestrian presses a button, whereupon they go red for a minute or so.  Drivers must obey these signals exactly as if they were regular stop lights.

I didn’t see a pedestrian, which means they probably already crossed before I got there.  Anyway, when I stopped, there was a car stopped opposite me, in the oncoming lane.  This car was signaling for a right turn.  The crosswalk in question is – like so many others – at an intersection of a minor cross street.  Access to the main road from the cross street is controlled by stop signs.  There has always been some ambiguity regarding whether it’s okay to turn right at a crosswalk that’s currently RED if doing so causes your car to pass through the crosswalk, so I just assumed that the driver wasn’t sure and was waiting for the light to go back to flashing green before turning.

As I waited for the light to go back to flashing green, in the car opposite me, the driver looked up from whatever they had been doing, and without waiting for the light to go green, drove straight through the crosswalk – while still signaling for a right turn.  The car behind them pulled forward and stopped, and its driver and I exchanged a puzzled look.

For those of you playing at home: how many mistakes were made by the first driver opposite me, and what were they?

Not the worst driver ever, but close Read More »

Selfish driving behaviour exemplified

A few days ago I witnessed a perfect example of the kind of bad driving behaviour I would most like to eliminate.  A driver entered the left turn lane at a busy intersection and took his place at the head of that lane, waiting for the light to change.  In this case, there is an advanced left turn signal that allows perhaps a dozen cars to make that turn before the next wave of two-way traffic pours into the intersection.

As I watched from one of the lanes opposite this driver, waiting for the same light, the two-way advanced green started flashing, and the driver in question just sat there.  He then turned off his left turn signal.  When the advanced green ended and the regular green lit up, he pulled into the intersection slightly and began trying to merge with the traffic going straight through the intersection.  He was eventually successful.

Let’s set aside the danger of attempting to merge into through traffic from the middle of a busy intersection.  That danger is significant, but it’s not what I want to talk about here.  Instead, consider the long line of people behind the driver in question, hoping to get through the intersection, turning left on the advanced green.  Normally, those people would have gotten through on one cycle, but because our driver was plugging the lane, they had to wait for at least one more cycle.  That takes a few minutes.  Our driver has just wasted a dozen drivers several minutes out of their day.

And what did our driver gain for this?  If he had simply made the left turn and then turned around at the next opportunity, he would have wasted a few minutes of his own day, but no other drivers would have been affected.  Did our driver consciously decide that his own time is worth more than that of twelve other drivers, combined?  Or is it more likely this just never occurred to him?  Did he simply panic?  Unfortunately, none of these alternatives are very appealing.  The driver was one or all of these things: selfish, oblivious or panic-stricken.

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A rant about car alarms

Ah, car alarms. Useless for deterring car theft, they do however provide wonderful new ways to annoy people. I was recently – and unavoidably – on a BC Ferry from Vancouver to Victoria and as usual decided not to do battle with the surging crowds of tourists on the passenger decks, preferring instead to stay in my car and read or nap. But as usual the relative peace of the car deck was shattered by car alarms going off every few minutes. There are only four possible reasons for this to occur: first, the car owner may not have realized that ferries move around a lot and will almost always set off their alarm. Hard to believe someone could be that stupid, but no, on second thought, it isn’t. Second, they may have enabled the alarm automatically, without thinking at all, as we do with so many of the repeated tasks in our lives. This is actually almost forgivable, if not for… Third, they don’t realize that their alarm probably has a silent alert option. Fourth, they know damn well it will go off, but don’t care, because they are a jerk.

After enduring this symphony of idiocy for a few minutes, I gave up and started making my way to the upper decks. On my way, I encountered a BC Ferries employee and made a joking reference to idiots and their car alarms. I should point out that I had often wondered why there are no signs on ferries telling people to disable their alarms. Anyway, he admitted that there is a strict BC Ferries policy against telling people not to enable their car alarms. That’s right, staff are not allowed to tell these idiots to stop being so incredibly annoying. Apparently their crack legal staff decided that BC Ferries might be liable if someone with a disabled car alarm had their car stolen on a ferry. Scratch that: where would the thief go with the car? So it must be that BC Ferries doesn’t want to be liable for theft of items from within cars with disabled alarms. And hey, they may be right. Still, I very much doubt a small-time crook would pay $60 for the privilege of working a two hour ferry ride, running around as fast as he can, cracking open cars, avoiding numerous travelers and staff, then dragging his loot back to his car and stuffing it in his trunk. And of course, unless he pays another $60 to wait in line for a couple more hours and ride again, he’ll be in the wrong town. Sorry, I just don’t buy it. Sure, corporate lawyers have to come up with something to make themselves appear useful, but is this the best they can do?

Years ago I lived in Toronto in an apartment building. My windows faced away from the major streets, so it was relatively quiet at night. Except for the idiot who came home from the night shift every night and – at 4am – enabled his car alarm with that loud, oh-so-familiar squawking sound, thereby waking up hundreds of people in the vicinity – including me of course. What this idiot failed to realize is that most car alarms can be enabled silently. Or possibly he knew damn well that this was possible but was just a huge asshat. Or he knew, but was sure everyone who heard it was actually impressed with his toy and secretly jealous of it. None of these options speaks well for this turd.

Now, a quick survey: when was the last time you heard a car alarm and did anything besides a) ignore it or b) groan and cover your head with your pillow? Never, right? What does this say about the efficacy of car alarms? I mean for the purposes of dealing with car-related theft, not for annoying people. So why are people still using the wretched things?

Now, for those interested (and for those of you for whom much of this is news), here are some links to car alarm information that may help you avoid being beaten to death after you smarmily enable your car alarm in the middle of the night – for the last time:
Steering you right: Car alarms
Wikipedia: car alarms
Alarmingly Useless: The Case for Banning Car Alarms in New York City

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A senseless death

Last week a member of my extended family was hit by a car while driving his motorcycle. He sustained serious injuries to one leg and several ribs. His prognosis was good, but died a few days later. The person in the car that hit him had been drinking, and ran the light in the intersection where this occurred. The light was red. This driver of the car has taken full responsibility.

Now, I’m not saying it’s okay to drive when you’ve been drinking. Or that it’s okay to run a red light. But most people hearing this story would focus on one or both of those things as being the causes of this tragedy. I disagree. The cause was lack of attention. If you read this blog long enough, you’ll find that this is a running theme. In fact, I feel so strongly about it that I believe we could get rid of most driving-related offenses, keeping only two: dangerous driving and careless driving. Because when you really look at it, these are the root causes of all motor vehicle accidents.

Take the driver of the car in this case. Drinking tends to dull one’s senses, so she was at a disadvantage right away. However, I maintain that if she had recognized her disability, she could have compensated by driving with extreme care and focus. And even if, by some stretch of the imagination, she still felt that she needed to run a red light when she knew she was impaired, if she had at least paid proper attention while approaching and moving through the intersection, she could have easily avoided the accident. You may insist that without knowing the details this is purely speculation, but put yourself in her place and go through it. Leaving aside her poor decisions, if she had at least been paying due attention, two lives (and possibly more) would not have been destroyed.

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