Top questions for the driving instructor

Readers’ questions are always welcome. Here are some of the most recent queries.

A reader asked what a driver should do when the vehicle ahead on a merge lane approaching the freeway is travelling at half the posted merge speed.

The first thing to keep in mind is the space cushion around your vehicle. Activate the four-way flashers. This will not only warn the drivers behind you, but create the necessary space as you reduce speed. Stay well back, to ensure you have enough space behind the driver who is doing a tortoise-in-transit impression. As you get closer to the freeway entrance, with lots of space in front and behind your car, speed up dramatically in a slingshot fashion. This will allow you to merge at approximately the same speed as freeway traffic. Glance forward several times to ensure the intimidated or inexperienced driver ahead has not come to a full stop.

Look for the space on the freeway instead of the vehicles. Spaces are bigger than vehicles, easier to judge and move at roughly the same speed as vehicles. If the space you are planning to merge into is getting bigger, that’s to your advantage. If it’s getting smaller, take a second look at the vehicles to see which driver is speeding up or slowing down dramatically.

Another reader asked about the proper stop position at an intersection. Drivers must come to a stop prior to the natural path of pedestrians. If there is a white line at the stop sign, the driver must stop before the line. Even if no white pedestrian path lines are painted on the road, a driver must stop before the linear extension of the sidewalk across the road. Where no pedestrian marker or sidewalk is present, pedestrians will most often walk on the road. That is the area before which a legal stop must be made. Crosswalks do not have to be marked to be legally enforced.

Drivers must stop prior to the pedestrian path when exiting a parking lot, back lane and even their own driveways. This regulation is seldom enforced, but it’s taken quite seriously on the driver’s road test.

Stop signs are placed by municipal employees and contractors. They have to avoid underground wires, pipes and a host of gas lines and other utility cables. Telephone and hydro poles, guide wires, sewer lines and trees often influence the placement of a stop sign. It’s safer to stop twice when lateral visibility is poor – once for pedestrians and once more to see cross traffic. Always remember that the stop sign tells a driver what to do, not necessarily where to do it.

Another reader asked why some vehicles do not have headlights lit when operational. Vehicles produced before 1990 in Canada are not required to light up upon ignition. Vehicles manufactured for sale south of the border are not required to light up at all. This makes it relatively easy to identify both older and newer imported vehicles on our roads. There is a common belief that vehicles that do not illuminate when being driven are involved in more crashes. Apparently, drivers pay more attention to an approaching vehicle that’s lit up than to an unlit vehicle. Some researchers think the crash rate is higher for unlit vehicles because they are older and less mechanically sound. As a precaution, I always pay more attention to vehicles approaching or following me when they are not illuminated during daylight hours.

John H. asked what to do when being threatened by a tailgater. The most common crash on our roads is the rear-end collision. Drivers are usually unaware of the relationship between speed and space needed to stop a vehicle, especially in an emergency. I have harped about this simple fact of physics before. If a driver doubles or triples the speed of the vehicle, it takes four times and nine times respectively as far to come to a stop, not two or three times.

It is a good idea to change lanes when being tailgated. When there is not an additional escape lane, lower the speed of your vehicle slightly. This will alert the offending driver.

Using the four-way-flashers is another way to draw attention to this dangerous situation. Most tailgaters are just not paying attention to their driving and are somewhat embarrassed by their behaviour. They usually back off immediately.

The most irritating tailgaters are those who are setting up for a pass. Roadrage situations should be avoided at all costs. The road shoulder is often the best option for safety and security when tailgating becomes a threat. Turning is also a last resort to eliminate the tailgater problem.

Never increase or decrease speed dramatically.

Bob A. wants me to clarify the legal crosswalk designation. Crosswalks do not have to be marked in order to have the force of law.

Any end-of-the-block crossing situation is a legal crosswalk. They are much easier to identify when marked by overhead lights or dramatic road markings. Remember, “zebra” crosswalk lines do not appear at crosswalks where stop signs and stop lights are situated. Solid crosswalk lines do appear in these mandatory stop locations. Drivers must stop when a pedestrian displays an intention to cross the road at a legally constituted crosswalk. (More on pedestrian responsibilities will appear in a future column.)

Katherine B. would like to know when it is appropriate to pass on the right to avoid getting stuck behind a driver turning left at an intersection. It is legal to pass a left turner from behind if no white line separates the shoulder of the road from the normally travelled portion. It is not legal to cross a solid white line between lanes to do so. It is not legal to use the gravel portion of the shoulder either. It is a good idea to first check that you are not being passed before attempting this manoeuvre.

– Heather W. wants to clarify the emergency-vehicle regulation. She was mystified when several vehicles on the other side of the road kept going in the face of an approaching ambulance, lights flashing and sirens sounding. She was kind enough to supply me with section 177 of the Motor Vehicle Act.”On the immediate approach of an emergency vehicle giving an audible signal by a bell, siren or exhaust whistle, and showing a visible flashing red light, except when otherwise directed by a peace officer, a driver must yield the right-of-way and immediately drive to a position parallel to and as close as possible to the nearest edge or curb of the roadway, clear of an intersection, and stop and remain in that position until the emergency vehicle has passed.” A new system of tremor-like compression, accompanying the sound and flashing emergency lights, is being tested for use in several cities.

– John J. wanted me to remind everyone about the simple first-come, firstserved rule at four-way stop intersections. It does not matter whether a driver is turning or travelling straight through. When drivers arrive at the same time, the vehicle on the right should proceed first.

Photograph by: Jana Chytilova, Ottawa Citizen

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas and a certified B.C. teacher.