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LETTER: Highway confusion

The overpass at Carrick Drive on the Outer Ring Road in St. John’s is one of the pieces of infrastructure mentioned in a public dispute between major St. John’s developers over how equitably public money is used to build required infrastructure immediately outside large developments.
The overpass at Carrick Drive on the Outer Ring Road.

I would like to take issue with certain assertions made in D.C. Hynes’s December 1 letter to the editor “The Outer Ring Road is not the TCH,” namely that: (1) the Outer Ring Road (ORR) is not a “highway” (sic), (2) the ORR’s left lane is not an overtaking lane, and (3) the left lane is the correct lane to occupy if the overhead sign lists your eventual exit. The letter exposes a need for better driver education and highway signage.

The assertion that the ORR is not a “highway” is wrong; it is a part of the Trans-Canada Highway (Route 1), and a “controlled access highway” under the Highway Traffic Act (HTA).

D.C. Hynes’s assertion that there is no “fast” lane on the ORR is an ambiguous colloquialism that has no real meaning. The safest highway is one where traffic flows smoothly and efficiently. Highway rules seek to facilitate this, as should driving behaviors. The universal rule on multi-lane highways is keep right except to pass. This rule is clear and unambiguous, which equates to safety. While it is correct that there is no “fast” lane on the ORR, it’s because there is no such thing as a “fast” or “slow” lane.

The keep right except to pass rule should always be followed on controlled access multi-lane highways, per the “drive to the right” provisions of the HTA. The rule is elegant in its simplicity and effectiveness; it facilitates the smooth and orderly flow of traffic at varying speeds, reduces traffic crowding behind slower drivers thereby increasing vehicle spacing, and reduces driver frustration and passing to the right. That’s why most jurisdictions follow the keep right except to pass rule in the interests of safety and highway efficiency. Drivers who are not spatially aware or do not feel comfortable changing lanes to adapt to the traffic moving around them should remain in the right lane, or perhaps avoid highway driving altogether.

Contrary to what D. C. Hynes states, just because a sign over the ORR’s left lane lists your eventual exit many miles down the highway, it does not mean you must drive in that lane – in fact if you do, and there are cars behind you wishing to pass, you are impeding the flow and creating unnecessary danger. These overhead signs simply provide drivers with advance notice of upcoming exits, that’s all (especially for people who are not familiar with the area, think tourists).

There is nothing to gain by driving in the overtaking lane if there is no need to be there? Beyond the fact that the HTA requires one to “drive to the right”, it is simply courteous to keep right and facilitate traffic flow if a driver behind you wants to pass. After all, as D.C. Hynes states, “it’s not a competition.” We should all work together to create orderly traffic flow. Keeping with the sports analogy, highway driving is like a team sport, where we all must cooperate to achieve harmonious, safe and efficient highways.

P. Fitzpatrick

St. John’s

Related letter:

Clearing up the rules of the road

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