The busiest freeway in North America (one of the widest and busiest in the World) is the segment of Ontario King’s Highway 401 (the MacDonald Cartier Freeway) which passes through downtown Toronto. It was designed in the fifties and the last section, near Kingston, was completed in 1968. It is the main transport artery for Southern and Southeastern Ontario running from the Quebec border, along the US – Canada boundary just north of the St Lawrence River, through Kingston then along the north side of Lake Ontario, through Toronto, and on to Guelph. It is being extended to the US border at Windsor and the bridge to Detroit.
The 401 was originally designed for 130 kph, or 80 mph, and it was first posted at 110 kph, but in the wake of the the oil shocks in the early ’70s the speed limit was locked in at 100 kph. It is a spectacularly good highway upon which to encounter bad drivers, of which Canada has an astonishing surfeit. Bits of the 401 have achieved notoriety for accidents and one section west of Toronto is called ‘Carnage Alley’ or sometimes ‘the Killer Highway’. There was an 87 vehicle pileup in 1999 that killed 8 people and injured 47.
Here’s a link to live cameras through Toronto and elsewhere in Ontario for laughs (unless you are stuck in one of these pictures).
Canadian drivers are so bad, there is a reality TV show, currently running in it’s eighth (count ’em – eight) season(s), on Discovery Channel wherein contestants strive to fail driving challenges in order to win cash prizes and the coveted title of ‘Canada’s worst driver’. I am not making this up.
In the 30 hours to last Sunday evening I had the pleasure (?) of doing 600 km on the 401, from K-town to Oakville and back, for a party at an old friend’s new flat (and a lovely party it was too).
The point is not the party, the point is that the trip on the 401 has given me a reason to fulminate on the fact noted above (that Canada has some of the worst drivers in the solar system and that the 401 is an excellent place to encounter them),
Like all males, I of course, am an extremely skilled and expert driver (it has to do with the Y chromosome). When did any male ever admit to sub-par driving skills? Except America’s toughest literary hero Jack Reacher who readily admits he’s a shitty driver, even though the elfin Tom Cruise portrays him otherwise. But I digress. Back to driving rather than bad cinematic adaptations of great books. Women are generally lousy drivers of course, but only (I have been assured) because they have been taught by men.
I am actually, no bullshit, pretty good behind the wheel and have many hundreds of thousands of km on 6 of 7 continents. I am totally ambidextrous, left side or right side of the road, auto or manual transmission, stick shifts or on the tree, I don’t care. Brit or Continental, pavement or gravel, petrol or diesel, boot, bonnet, trunk, hood, cars, bikes, ATV’s, vans. trucks up to ten tonnes, all the same to me. My last accident of any kind was in 1995 and there were martinis involved.
When conditions permit (good car or bike, dry road, daylight), I occasionally like to drive quickly, sometimes (gasp) up to 30% over the limit where your ticket risk starts to really rise. Focus 110% on the road, both hands on the wheel at all times, at 10 and 2, cruise control (preferably set on 128 or 129 kph on the 401 – the cops won’t usually ticket a family style car until you hit 130), scan instruments, back to road, scan mirrors, back to road, never break concentration, beware of sneaky cops rocketing up behind and all the favorite spots for them to hide along the road. Right thumb on cruise kill button for when you sense a copper – hit the button, never the brake, let the car coast. If you brake hard they see it on radar and may pull you over to search for a detector. If you just coast down they don’t always get a good accurate speed fix for a ticket and will probably give you the benefit of the doubt and wait for that beanbrain in the Saturn doing 150 k or the mid-life chappie with the LTD in the Porsche doing 125. LTD – (little tiny dick) – cue the old joke – ‘if you’ve got a big one you don’t need a Porsche’.
If you’re headed West on the 401, it’s best just after dawn , empty road, sun at your 6 o’clock, obviously avoid shitty weather. Lane discipline is important – stay hard right and signal your changes. The French may be criticised on many things but not their lane discipline, nor their roads. The finest road I have ever driven was the French autoroute from Paris down through Clermont-Ferrand to Montpelier, About 800 k in pretty much one shot (three fuel, one nosh and one wine stop), on a 1000 cc BMW R100T Boxer, cruising along behind my fairing at 95 mph (in the slow lane) and watching the beautiful flow of faster cars pulling out to pass then immediately back in. Almost no one ever needing the third lane, I occasionally got to pull out to pass one of those little tin can Citroens hammering along with its 10 inch wheels vibrating at 90 knots. No such structured and sensible behaviour on Canadian freeways.
Since being back in Canada (7 years) I’ve been nailed for speeding twice, once in Kingston when I wasn’t paying attention and hit about 135 passing some dickhead doing 115 in the fast lane and didn’t spot the cop closing in on my tail. I apologised and he let me off with a $50 fine. The other time was a fluke as well, hooning down the 416 from Ottawa very late one night in a friend’s BMW 5 series, pitch black totally empty dead straight expressway, doing about 140 (I had been passed 5 minutes before by a Merc 500 SL doing just under 150 and I thought the road had been ploughed). Blazing through a stretch where the opposite lanes were hidden by trees, a sudden too-late premonition and the headlights on the left side came on straight into my face from two hundred yards down the road.
The copper was a good guy and I ‘yessir, nosirred’ him down to a minimum $50 fine as well (“Oh thank you sir”). He said he never saw the Merc. There was an unpleasant repercussion to that incident which I will relate another time – suffice it to say it is amazing how long the Brockville Courthouse maintains records of very old speeding tickets, even on people who didn’t live in Canada or hold a Canadian license when caught.
Back to Canadian driving habits.I mentioned lane discipline and it is here that drivers in this country real excel (Not!). A few favorites:
- “Hey I pay my taxes it’s my road and if I want to drive under the limit in the fast lane I am perfectly entitled to do so.” So when you run up behind this idiot you can either blow past him on the right (illegal in some circumstances) or slow down behind him and hope he wakes up enough to pull over. A variation on this one is the guy in the fast lane doing 110.01 kph passing a truck doing 110.00. Often they get out beside the truck and freeze – deer in the headlights – too scary to pass the truck so let’s hover in his blind spot and block everyone else from passing.
- As the highway traffic increases about 100 km from Toronto, the freeway widens from 4 lanes to 6 at Cobourg – three lanes either way. “Oh good”, say the beanbrains and they move into the middle lane and forget all about the rule that says ‘keep right’. So as the traffic gets heavier you have slow vehicles in the center lane, no one in the right lane and the frustrated people (like me) trying to get by and jamming up behind each other in the left lane. That’s when I always get nostalgic for French drivers. At some stage in this situation, someone will crack and take off at 140 kph down the empty right hand lane, which is fine until they run up against someone driving slowly who has actually followed the rules and has stayed hard right.
- “Oh so you think I should pull over? Well, fuck you“. This one is beyond belief and astonishingly dangerous. You have moderately heavy traffic on a two lane section, most of the slow lane is behaving themselves and doing about 115 and staying in line, but there is one guy out in the fast lane, also doing 115. You zoom up behind him, knock off the cruise and coast down to his speed – not too close (lots of tailgaters in Canada) but close enough so he can’t miss you, and you wait for him to be courteous and pull over into one of the gaps. Mostly, they pull over as soon as they can. After a while, if no reaction, you give him a little blip with the headlights to let him know you are there. Nine times out of ten the guy (or girl) wakes up and pulls over – the problem is number ten – usually for some reason a small guy driving a really small car, who takes umbrage. Last Saturday I had one of these who responded by immediately hitting his brakes and slowing down to 90 kph, whereupon I had to hit mine and hope I wouldn’t be rear ended. We are now both doing 90 in the fast lane with the 115 k traffic whizzing past on the right and other irate speeders piling up behind. When I got an opening to get right to try to go around him he cut in front of me and cut me off.
It’s times like that last one that I am happy I am carrying a HK made car-cam pointed out the front of my car. We’ll see if the cops will prosecute. Wouldn’t that be sweet.
Of course, Canada does not really have the worst drivers in the world. That distinction apparently belongs to Eritrea, I must add that (as fair as I know) we don’t normally have to worry about landmines or ‘Shuftas’ (bandits) here. However, Canada is right up there amongst the worst in the developed world, way ahead of everyone in Europe (except Greece and Belgium), and not far behind the good old USA.
Car cams are, in my view, a great idea and would go a long way to cleaning up the roads around here. They are becoming very popular in Russia, a public ‘fad’ which has it’s gentle (?) charms.
All that stuff about speeding? Just kidding. Not me, regular little old lady.