Road Rage on the Hood

Over a year ago, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) released a national study on the extent of Canada’s roadway ‘bottleneck’ problem.  It said that “bottlenecks are the single biggest contributor to road delays, far outpacing traffic collisions, weather and construction,… affecting Canadians in every major urban market, increasing commute times by as much as 50 per cent.”

The study offered the ‘zipper merge’ as a solution to decreasing bottleneck congestion by as much as 40%.  Zipper merging involves, at the warning of an oncoming merge, drivers continuing to use all the open lanes available until they reach the merge point, where they should then, and only then, take turns entering the remaining fewer open lanes.  In other words, this solution counsels against Canadians’ natural tendencies to be aggressively early in the lineup.  Vancouver drivers who regularly cross the many bridges in the lower mainland’s road system are experienced in this zipper merging issue.

‘Merging’ is also about entering into heavy multi-lane traffic on primary roads or freeways from secondary roads or entrance ramps.  At the time of writing, rush hour traffic is about to get a whole lot busier in the coming weeks, which means merging driving skills will be rigorously tested.

Merging skills involve speed and space control, safe lane changing, and practicing the common courtesies of anticipating and responding to the needs of others.  One could go so far as to say that the demands of merging into and out of rush hour traffic flows in the lower mainland test drivers’ patience and basic good manners like no other urban activity in which they involve themselves.

A reminder of what can happen when bad manners high-jack a merging situation came from news reports last week of an incident on Highway 404 in suburban Toronto, described by Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, a spokesperson for the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) highway safety division.  The officer is quoted as saying of the subject incident that it was the “most extreme type of aggressive driving I’ve ever seen.”

The incident began when driver one refused to let a car merge in front of him.  Both cars stopped.  The unsuccessful merger driver, driver two, exited his car shouting profanities at driver one, and threw a toolbox in his direction.  When driver one exited his car to photograph driver two’s license plate, he encountered driver two speeding directly towards him. Driver one jumped on the hood of driver two’s vehicle reportedly thinking, “Just hold on to the hood and wiper blades, and hope he doesn’t swerve.”

The story goes that after traveling about 500 metres on the hood at approximately 100 km/h with driver two then abruptly hitting his brakes, driver one formed the opinion that “I guess trying to slide me off the hood.”  Later he said the experience “was a little strange,” but he “didn’t feel unsafe.”

A fellow commuter, quoted as saying the forgoing episode resembled a scene from an action movie, captured all of this on dashcam, viewable online.  Sgt. Schmidt also said, “Having a human body hanging on a roof or a hood of a vehicle by his fingers at highway speed down a provincial highway is nothing short of unbelievable and absolutely deadly.”  And stupid, maybe?

The latest reports say OPP have identified driver one and charged him with dangerous driving and assault with a weapon.