September 16, 2008

Running Red.

Traffic Lights in Northern Communities
When I lived in Fort Liard, there were no traffic lights.  There was no need.  The only time a traffic jam happened is when two people driving in opposite directions stopped to talk to each other and a third truck pulled in behind one of them.

The nearest traffic lights to Fort Liard are in Fort St. John - a six hour drive away.  In some northern communities, it's much, much further - if you can even get out of the community by car.

Sometimes, lifetime residents would ask me to accompany them to Edmonton to pick up a piece of equipment or a vehicle.  They didn't want me to there so I could help finagle the purchase price or because I'm good company; they wanted me to drive in the city because "I've never driven somewhere with traffic lights".  

Those conversations helped me to realize just how much I take for granted - and how very different life can be between someone who lives in urban Canada and someone who lives in northern Canada.  If you're not familiar with them, traffic lights can be intimidating things!

Traffic Lights and Police Patrols
I was on a ride-along with an RCMP friend one night.  He was driving around the city and was pulling people over for minor infractions.  What amazed me was how almost every single person he pulled over had a warrant out on them for some other non-traffic-related crime.

Constantly on the road, ever vigilant for those who weren't following the law, I caught him accidentally making a traffic offense on his own.

"You just ran that red light," I pointed out.

"I did?" he asked, surprised.

"Yup," I said.

Without missing a beat, he flicked on his lights and siren and sped up to the vehicle in front of us, which pulled over.

"Now at least people will think there was a reason," he casually commented.

He got out of the car and walked to the passenger window of the vehicle he'd pulled over.  I could hear the driver.

"I'm so sorry, officer, I'll never do it again, I swear!"  You could tell by the concern in her voice that she really, really meant it.

"Do you know why I pulled you over?" he asked.

"Uhhh... Because I did something wrong?" she asked.

"Nope, just a random check stop.  License and registration please."

This evening, as I was driving into downtown Whitehorse a business function, I could have been in a horrendous accident.  

But I wasn't.

Had I been a little less alert or a little less wary, I would have been T-boned by a careless woman wielding a minivan.  I wouldn't have been far from the hospital, but I doubt there would have been much of me left to take there.

I was on Robert Service Way, waiting for the lights to turn green so I could turn left onto 2ndAve. It was "rush hour".  Had I been impatient, I might have sped off the moment the light changed.  

Thank goodness for defensive driving.  

Before I accelerated, I looked around and noted that an ugly minivan didn't seem to be slowing down for the red light, even though there was already a lineup of cars in the opposite lane.

She burned through the intersection.  Because I saw her coming, I had lots of time to give her some good honks.

Now, I don't know what you do when you realize that you've done something stupid, but this lady's reaction really impressed me.  Not in a good way.

You've heard about people "tearing their hair out"?  When she realised what she'd done, she reached up and grabbed her hair, as if she were holding her head onto her neck.  You may have seen this gesture before.  It's usually accompanied by the expression, "Ugh!  I'm such an idiot!" 

The reason why it impressed me is because she did this with both hands.  Yes, as she burned through the red light, she had completely let go of the steering wheel.

For safety's sake, I will be keeping my eyes open for this minivan in the future, both as a driver and as a pedestrian.  I hope she doesn't decide to get a new vehicle - I won't know what to watch out for!

I never had this problem when I lived in Fort Liard...


Mongoose said...

I'm pretty sure there are traffic lights in Fort Nelson and it's only about two hours from Liard - depending what the road is like.

I hear you though. This summer in Hay River I had a passenger in my cab who came from Taloyoak and had never seen a bridge.

Meandering Michael said...

Hi Mongoose! Fort Nelson has a pedestrian crossing with flashing lights on the Alaska Highway, but no traffic lights. Unless something has changed since I last drove through at the end of June...

dogsled_stacie said...

Not only do people regularly run red lights in this town, I see them blowing through STOP signs on a daily basis as I pass at least three every trip into town. Some vehicles don't even bother to slow down, nevermind stop. Unreal. Can't wait till they do this in winter!!

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that the police have this power when it comes to drivers. Pulling somebody over at random, for no reason, with no organized Check Stop program going on, and demanding documentation is a clear violation of Section 9 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms "Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.".

For example, what would your reaction be if, instead of driving, you were walking down the street and the RCMP stopped you and demanded to see identification?

It's a police state tactic.