We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Road trip reveals odd driving habits

By Steve Wallace, Victoria Times Colonist February 18, 2011

Speeding drivers are not a rare sight on the stretch of Highway 16 between Prince George and Smithers.

The driving habits that I witnessed on my recent road trip to Smithers are worth a mention.

Driving through Victoria was a frustrating experience. There is absolutely no regard for the signs that read “Slower traffic keep right.” It is commonplace for Pat Bay Highway drivers to stay in the left lane at well below the speed limit. The merging traffic, on the way to the ferry, seldom accommodated those drivers entering the freeway. There were enough brake lights shining from vehicles entering the highway to light every Christmas tree in Greater Victoria.

The ferry ride was great in every respect, staff, food, timing, a port-side killer whale pod, and the best scenery in the world.

Driving through Vancouver and out to Hope was predictable: At least the drivers knew what a merge sign meant. Speeds were a lot higher than on the Island freeways, with few vehicles holding back traffic. Construction-zone speed signs, meant to slow traffic, were virtually ignored. I stopped in Harrison Hot Springs.

The one-way, main beach street was probably designed by someone with a sense of humour or who hated tourists. It is confusing at best, unnecessary at worst.

Driving the Fraser Canyon was a real treat. Roads were bare and dry. The truckers were impeccable in both safety and skill. There were all sorts of rocks both big and small rolling down the hillsides, because of the unseasonably mild weather. Work crews were stabilizing a number of such trouble spots.

After Cache Creek it was all about 4×4 pickups and SUVs. There were a great number of new passing lanes, making the trip much safer and less stressful.

Logging trucks were a familiar sight and instilled a feeling of awe and respect at the same time. These “knights” of the road are always the first to help in any emergency.

There is a real culture shift that occurs beyond Hope. Northerners actually like tow-truck drivers. They help people get out of the ditch and other predicaments. City dwellers usually dislike them, since they are associated with parking violations.

The number of vehicles equipped with deer whistles was noticeable. I saw only a few moose but several deer were out and about. The highway improvements from Quesnel to Prince George were amazing. A new weigh-scale station, several new passing lanes and the twinning of the Simon Fraser Bridge south of Prince George were a welcome sight.
While we were in Prince George, the temperature fell from +7 to -22 C in a 36-hour period. My small SUV froze solid, and luckily I could crawl through the only operating hatchback door, start the vehicle and heat it up.

Highway 16 to Smithers was not as well surfaced as Highway 97, but did have some newly paved sections. Speeders were really moving on Highway 16, the Yellowhead Highway. Guys were passing me like I was standing still. Maybe the “student driver” sign on the back of my vehicle had something to do with it.

Smithers is at the base of Hudson Bay mountain, the most beautiful setting of any city in B.C.

It also has the most peculiar intersection I have ever seen. It is a roundabout in the core of the city, with stop signs at every entrance. The whole idea of a roundabout is to keep the traffic moving. There has to be a good story about the motivation for such an overbearing traffic control, but I did not hear it.

The trip back was uneventful, except for the truckers who I sat with on the ferry. Their advice to daily drivers is simple and will show up in a future column.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C.

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