Better driver education needed

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I would like to comment on a letter published on Oct. 18 under the headline “The road and the rules.” With recent increases in traffic volumes and highway congestion, driver education is a matter of public safety. Some statements made in the letter warrant comment and suggest driver education in this province may be inadequate.

The letter’s author states, among other things, that “there is no ‘keep right except to pass’ stipulation on the Outer Ring Road.”

The author also states that “the right lane is an ‘on ramp/off ramp’ lane…to be used for traffic merging from on ramps and for those slowing down to exit off the Outer Ring Road.”

The author further suggests that all through traffic must use the left lane, and “from the left lane, you are to signal right and merge into the lane when your exit is approaching and merge right again when your exit has arrived.”

The author suggests this conclusion follows from the “overhead signs which indicate which lane you are to drive in” (e.g. the signs over the right driving lane that provide advance notification of upcoming exits). I believe this may show a misunderstanding of certain rules of the road and may help explain why traffic on our highways does not always flow as smoothly as it could.

The “drive to the right except to pass” rule is widely followed throughout the world, and is brilliant and elegant in its simplicity.

One will typically see this when motoring in foreign countries, not just because it’s likely the law, but also because it is a common sense way to ensure the smooth and orderly flow of traffic. There are some (not enough) “keep right” signs along our highways, but the important point is this rule does not only apply where the Department of Transportation decides to place a sign, as the letter’s author suggests; rather “drive to the right” is a rule of general application (see Highway Traffic Act, section 95).

Failure to follow this basic rule causes unnecessary traffic crowding and congestion, leads to avoidable risk-taking and just plain reduces the efficiency of the highway.

At the same time, driving in the left lane when not passing creates no benefit for anyone. Everyone’s goal should be the smooth and efficient flow of traffic. Keeping right except to pass facilitates that, as do most other traffic rules.

The letter writer’s assertion that the right lane of the Outer Ring Road is an “on ramp/off ramp” lane is plain wrong.

While it is obvious that all traffic leaving or entering the highway must do so from the right lane, the off-ramp is the off-ramp, and the on-ramp is the on-ramp.

The right lane of the Outer Ring Road is the driving lane, where you should maintain highway speeds until you enter the off-ramp, where you then slow down. You should not slow down while still in the right driving lane.

Likewise, when entering the highway you accelerate to highway speed while on the on-ramp so as not to disturb the traffic flow upon entering the highway. The left lane of the Outer Ring Road is the overtaking lane, and is designed to allow traffic to travel at different speeds yet share the same road.

Further, if the overhead sign indicates the next off-ramp is for “Donovans,” this does not mean, as the letter’s author suggests, that the right lane is reserved exclusively for people exiting or entering the highway at Donovans; the sign simply signals that if you want to exit there, you will need to be in the right lane to do so.

One may always drive in the right lane and pass exits without exiting. Further, you may remain in the right lane even when a sign above the left lane lists your exit as being further down the road. Just because your distant exit is listed above the left passing lane doesn’t mean one must drive in that lane.

A lot to learn

The intent here is not to criticize. My point is there seems to be an issue with driver education. I have always felt that our licensing system should aim to produce drivers, as in many European countries, and not just dispense driver’s licenses.

Further, I believe all motorists should not just know the rules of the road, but should also receive training in the physics of driving, emergency manoeuvres and winter driving techniques, and they should feel confident enough to drive comfortably at highway speeds and change lanes as required.

If you remove any of these skills, you reduce overall driving ability and increase driving risk. The white-knuckled driver who is not sure what highway lane they should be in, fears changing lanes or drives so slow relative to others (e.g. when merging) as to be like an obstruction in a fast-flowing stream, is a dangerous thing.

I believe strongly in advanced driver training and periodic re-

testing. Highway traffic conditions in the St. John’s region today are more challenging than in the past, and demand greater driving abilities. Perhaps government should promote better driver education and awareness through higher testing standards, public service messages demonstrating correct driving practices, and better signage. 

Based on my observations, the top three driver education priorities should be stay right except to pass, how to turn correctly onto a multi-lane road, and proper use of on/off ramps. You will note all three promote safe and efficient traffic flow.

 

Paul Fitzpatrick writes from Topsail.

Organizations: Department of Transportation

Geographic location: Outer Ring Road

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  • jimmy
    November 09, 2013 - 15:00

    I agree with this but would also like to see the demerit point system be made more effective. Every moving violation should be worth 4 points - 3 moving violations in a year and you lose your license. Excessive speeding be worth 6 points - do it twice in a calendar year and lose your license. Cell phone use should be same as impaired - immediate 24 hr suspension and about six points. See if that doesn't help people remember the rules of the road.