The provincial government‘s plans to amend highway legislation to increase road safety is welcome news.
The changes to keep slow moving construction equipment off major highways and make emergency vehicles stop at red lights are among several changes to the Highway Traffic Act, which come into effect in 2014.
They were touted last week in a news release from Service NL, as provisions to “increase road safety for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.”
The changes are definitely a step in the right direction to ensure safer roads. What we need though is more emphasis and resources on public awareness and promotion of all rules of the road, coupled with more enforcement.
Without awareness and enforcement, the new provisions will simply join the list of the infractions that drivers ignore on a daily basis.
Driving to and from work in St. John’s every day provides a glimpse into the regular violations of the Highway Traffic Act and all the other legislation designed to govern how, where, when and what we drive. The drive highlights just how little we know about the rules of the road or how we disregard them, and how there is very little or no enforcement by police and the province’s highway enforcement officials.
Speeding is the most obvious infraction on roads from the Outer Ring Road to neighbourhood streets where the limit is 30 or 40 kilometres per hour. Speed limit signs are everywhere yet rarely do we see police stop drivers, especially in neighbourhoods.
Drivers know that seatbelts are mandatory but some never wear them. Tailgating, or driving too close to the vehicle in front of you, is illegal but drivers regularly do this especially during the regular commute to and from Conception Bay South. Drivers know the difference between stop and yield but some rarely pay attention to either.
Our province was the first to make it illegal to use a cellphone while driving, and all provinces have since followed our lead. Unfortunately, it is not enforced. Many of us have never heard of anyone getting a ticket for this except for hearing about some cases in the media. People driving and talking and texting is too common and acceptable because the chance of being caught is very rare.
There are the other usual infractions like bolting through amber and red lights, passing where it is prohibited, not using signal lights, and parking in no parking zones. These also are not widely enforced, so again drivers take liberties knowing they may never be caught.
Some driving habits have become so ingrained that drivers may not be aware that they are illegal. For instance, it is illegal to back out of your driveway or to open your door when there is oncoming traffic. You can also get a ticket if you drive in neutral or disengage the clutch while going down a hill. How the police will know you are doing this is not clear, but it would be discovered if you were in an accident. Drivers who neglect to clean off their windows after a snowfall are also violating the Highway Traffic Act.
When government launches it promotional campaign about the additions to the Act, it would be nice to hear reminders of other safety practices and a commitment to enforcement. Otherwise, the changes will soon end up forgotten or ignored like so many others.
The annual Kiwanis Santa Claus Parade is this Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. from Holy Spirit School and ending early afternoon at Upper Gullies Elementary. The parade has been a project of the Kiwanis Club for more than 50 years and features floats from local schools, organizations, and businesses.
Joan Butler is a lifelong resident of Kelligrews, Conception Bay South. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.