Saturday, November 2, 2013

A little learning is a dangerous thing

On my street, there's a left turn lane where it intersects with a main, four-lane artery. My street itself is quiet and small. I don't think twice about the left turn: I just slide on over and wait at the light or head on through if it's green.

I was doing that this afternoon. Signalled, merged left, pulled up at the red light in the middle of the lane. Then a silver minivan pulled up beside me, on my right - halfway in the left turn lane, halfway in the right, but angled enough that it looked like he was planning to turn left. "Whoa, whoa, what the fuck, buddy?!?" I shouted, startled.

For once, the driver heard me, and responded. He rolled his window down and said something, I don't remember exactly what, asking why I was upset.

"What are you doing? Are you trying to turn left?" I asked him. (His turning signal was not on.)

"Yeah," he said.

I sensed a "teachable moment" and went for it. "So am I. So you're supposed to pull in behind me and wait there."

"No, I'm not," he said.

"Yeah, you are. You're supposed to wait, and make your turn after me."

"Not according to the Highway Traffic Act," he said.

"Ohhoho, yes according to the Highway Traffic Act," I answered.

(What I didn't say was, "Have you read the HTA? Because I have..." Let's have a look at the Ministry of Transportation's Driver's Handbook page on this rule, shall we?)

He cut me off. "No, I can pull up here because I left you a safe distance," he indicated the three feet of space between his door and my handlebars.

"That's not the point, you can't just..." I said.

"I'm sorry if I scared you, but I did leave a safe distance," he cut me off. He sounded so maddeningly certain.

Then the light turned green, and in a Pavlovian reaction I just started into my turn, out of some kind of dread of being in the intersection having an argument while the light was green. And lo and behold, the minivan driver started into his turn at the same time. I threw my right hand out and shouted, "See, that is NOT SAFE!" and as I dodged the cars coming out of the other side of the intersection and made it safely, and with some relief, to the right-hand side of the street, I really hoped that he'd been smart enough to figure out what was wrong with his logic. Maybe he'd figured out that if I'm moving to the outside of the street, and he's moving to the inside of the street, our paths kind of inevitably cross. Making him, sitting on my right side, nowhere near a safe position for me.

Or maybe he just thought I was a panicky woman on a bike and dismissed the whole thing.

I wish I'd had time, or the self-possession, to stop in the intersection and explain the physics to him. How if he's beside me as we both turn left, he's going to have to either cut me off (dangerous) or complete his turn behind me (which he should have been doing anyway). But I didn't. I hope he came to the realization when he was forced to brake and let me continue my turn in order not to sideswipe me. I appreciate that he actually spoke to me, in fact - it's a rare driver that does.

But I'm also a little disturbed by his quoting the "rules" so wrongly. It's like the recent campaign to get people to adopt the three-foot rule has drowned out all else. Worrying: maybe the city should be spending that public service announcement money on more general bike-literacy for drivers, rather than on one rule to the exclusion of others. Because the only rule this guy knew was that he needed to be three feet from me. Knowing that, he figured he was A-OK to do what he did.

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

- Alexander Pope


  1. OK, so I saw this yesterday on HuffPOo and thought, no, this is excessive, I won't send it to K8. But . . .

    And thanks for the Pope quotation. Not enough of those in the world these days.

  2. Heh. Figured you'd appreciate the properly quoted Pope...

  3. Been there twice. Once with a police car... expected the sirens to light up as there must have been an emergency. But nope. Next time I will try to tell myself to give up and shuffle back in line behind them (though I will probably be theatrical about it). Life is too precious to risk meeting a road rager in a left turn 'share'.

  4. Wow. Hard to believe a policeman would not know, or misunderstand, the rules of the road... And at least this guy was calm about the whole thing. (Unlike the woman in the video my dad posted above - yeesh.) He was polite and smiley and totally wrong about the rules. Much rather deal with that than road rage: I've had a big black pickup with a lift kit gun its engines and undertake me in the middle of a left turn lane before, at night, and that is a scary thing. But now I'm wondering if that driver was being aggressive, or thought they were obeying the rules. (It being a black pickup predisposes me to think the first option is more likely though.)

    I'm starting to think it might not be a bad idea to require refresher drivers' ed courses (even if they're just written). Most people pass the test at 16 and never think about it again. And if they were getting retested, then things like the increasing number of cyclists on the road could be factored into the tests.