Back to basics when traffic lights are out

As an advocate of safer driving, I write this column for several reasons.

First and foremost, defensive driving does not mean being skittish and nervous; it means being confident and aware of those around you. By being aware, you are able to predict when collisions may occur and you can take action to avoid one.

Second, there are drivers who treat driving as a right, not as a privilege. For them, it is time for a wake-up call.

And finally, by my sharing some of the stories from behind the wheel of a police car, perhaps you will sympathize with the continued struggles of traffic enforcement.

I do not believe every person who commits a traffic offence deserves a ticket, so if I am able to educate before enforcement is needed, all the better.

I like to write and tell stories. I know this does not have much to do with driving, but if I’m going to be honest about this, I may as well list it. Besides, what better story to tell than one many of you can relate to.

This driving stuff is really important; not just for me, but for everyone’s road sanity.

Needless to say, I get very frustrated when I see a lack of basic driving skills. The first thought to usually pass through my mind is one joining low IQ with a general lack of self-awareness on the part of the bad driver. This may sound mean, cruel and insensitive, but it really is not. It is simply a pure human emotion upon witnessing a dangerous or inattentive driving situation.

The single-most telling situation outlining a driver’s ignorance of, or disregard for, basic driving behaviour occurs when the driver is faced with an intersection where the traffic lights are not working.

As most of you know, drivers must adhere to the four-way-stop procedure when the traffic lights are out. Vehicles are supposed to alternate, one line of cars at a time, through the intersection. North/South drives through, and then East/West drives through, with breaks for pedestrians. The smaller the intersection, the easier it is to navigate.

Intersections such as Terminal Avenue and Main Street can be an absolute nightmare, as there are four directions of travel accompanied by four individual and independent turn lanes. When you consider this intersection is bounded by Science World, a SkyTrain station, a Greyhound station and an industrial area, it is a wonder anyone is able to clear it even when the lights are working. Take out the traffic lights, and mayhem is guaranteed: pedestrians run pell-mell all over the place, cars bunch up and race through on each other’s coat tails, buses are unable to merge and emergency vehicles find alternate routes.

It would run so much smoother if everyone took their turn and practised their four-way-stop. Yes, pedestrians can wreak havoc on a multi-vehicle four-way-stop, especially at a busy intersection. But, as most of you have found, it’s not that difficult to figure out.

Is it an excruciatingly painful experience from a driver’s point of view? Most definitely. Is it the end of the world? Most definitely not.

Please remember that when the traffic lights go out at major intersections, the Vancouver Police does try to send officers to help direct traffic.

Sometimes, though, calls in to 911 and other incidents take priority, and it will be up to you to look out for one another.

Vancouver Police Const. Sandra Glendinning blogs at Her opinions aren’t necessarily those of the city’s police department or board.

Photograph by: Wayne Leidenfrost, PNG