Muscling down the road

Gerry Phelan
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I heard the monster before I saw it. There was this explosive revving,  then the roar of an engine and like a submarine rising from the water, I saw the cab of the vehicle, towering above gigantic wheels as it moved ever closer, ultimately passing to the inside of a car that had stopped to let me cross on the properly-marked crosswalk.

The sunglass-wearing driver barely noticed as I gave him the finger and yelled to no avail over his thunderous tailpipe. The motorist who had initially braked for me seemed aghast. His face was white with fear of what could have been; mine was red with anger.

On this occasion, I was a pedestrian who had made a narrow escape. Behind the wheel, things are sometimes not much better.

I’m scared to death on the roads these days. It’s bad enough some people can’t drive; others simply don’t care about how they drive. Many are like me, careful, mindful drivers who have always worried as much about the other guy as to how we drive ourselves.

Lately, I’ve noticed something I’ve seen elsewhere. People are driving bigger vehicles, larger trucks, some of them perched so high above their four wheels that the average car could almost pass right under them.

I drive an Elantra. It’s a mid-size car, but at a stop light, lane by lane with these gargantuan pickups, I feel so small. When the light turns green, often the truck engines give off a roar, occasionally even spinning the rubber, showing their power, their force and their driver’s stupidity.

I’m not pointing the finger at everyone. I’m concerned about those who use their vehicles as the toys earned through their trade, and seem to play the road, instead of respectfully treating it as a way to get between two places.  

My son lived in several Alberta towns, and when he was buying a car he told me he needed something big. After a couple of trips to Calgary and Edmonton, I got the point. It was even more evident in Fort Mac. Now, I’m seeing the same here: large, often modified, pickups.

I know the City of St. John’s has been grappling with how to deal with loud pipes on motorcycles. I have little to offer to that debate. I’ve been shocked to my senses by the noise from some bikes, but I certainly acknowledge it made me notice

the cycle was there. With souped-up trucks, there’s no visibility problem. I just want them driven safely.  

Someone in the car business told me that we buy more trucks per capita than people in any other province. Take a look around. It seems there are more than ever, including those of the specialty variety, some that might be better referred to as muscle vehicles rather than pickups.

 Years ago, the pickup was more common in rural areas than on city streets. I remember as a child travelling from St. John’s to St. Mary’s, sitting in a rocking chair strapped down to the back of a pickup. I loved it, but you’d never get away with that today.

Thankfully, we hear of very few cases of people loaded into open pickups. It’s bad enough when we see pets riding that way.

Someone mentioned a concern that those modified pickups, raised higher off the ground, with bigger tires, create a problem at night, as their headlights are higher, shining into the eyes of oncoming drivers. I haven’t encountered that. I also don’t know if all those heavier pickups are having an impact on the ruts in the roads. I think it’s fair to say there are far more vehicles on our streets than there were 20 years ago, and every one of them has an impact.  

Those monsters may be a safer vehicle for those behind the wheel, but their drivers must realize there are others on the road, too.

I applaud the affluence and earning power that got you that vehicle, but it has no more rights or privileges than small cars travelling the same pavement.  

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster.

He can be reached at

Geographic location: Alberta, Calgary, Edmonton Fort Mac

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