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March 22, 2009


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Greg H

Right on, Jim! I've driven that same stretch of road myself. Around the urban centers where there was a lot of traffic, 120-140 km/h was about the going rate in the outer two lanes. But in the wide open areas, we were singing along at 200, no problem (and of course, still having to move right frequently for the even faster cars).

Made me really scratch my head when I came back to Canada, since not only were the highways so much slower, but the lane discipline just wasn't there. Maybe all we need to do is force everyone to drive in Germany for a few months and then retain those habits. Sort of a government sponsored training/vacation trip....

Now as good as that was, I've also taken the train over this same stretch, and there's no contest. Nice seats, coffee served while you're seated, and the countryside is ripping along at 250 km/h! Took one hour to make the whole trip.

Brent Morton

Because it's easier for everyone to just keep things the way they are rather than change, even if everyone agrees change makes sense - and getting everyone to agree is a tall order in itself.

Look at the speed limit situation. They're almost universally ignored and the de facto highway limit is 20 km/h over whatever's posted. But it's easier to continue with these unofficial limits than it is to raise the legal limit. Imagine the hoopla if the government actually stated that it was considering raising the limit, even to 110 (which drivers in some other provinces seem to be able to handle). Never mind that the limit would be raised to match up with reality - there would be an uproar. The way government finances are looking these days, someone would probably even pull out the "Think of how much it would cost to replace all the speed limit signs" card as a reason to avoid change.

The way it is now, government and police can "tsk tsk" about speeding on one hand while tacitly allowing (or collecting revenue as a result of) the higher speeds on the other. There's no downside for the government to keep things exactly as they are, but making a change would result in both a political and a financial hit.

Jim, I share your frustration. The status quo is a powerful force.

Nick B.

"...what’s holding us back?..."

In no particular order; politicians, cops, traffic engineers.

You can also add media ("...such-and-such crashed his BMW over the weekend and wiped out 6 miles of guardrail..."), parents who think the state should baby-sit their teen who has just received his/hers drivers license, and shoddy drivers education/licensing process.


I was a victim of one of those 400-series highway "safety" blitzes a couple weeks ago. We were driving in the middle of a pack of cars all traveling about 130kph in the left lane (passing all the trucks and nervous-types fighting for real estate in the right two lanes).

My red car was picked out of a sea of grey cars (airplane cop I believe). We had been travelling for about an hour, feeling relatively safe and secure, until traffic approached the visible cruisers lined up at the next bridge. All three lanes came to a screeching halt (the left lane stopped completely!). The police actually CREATED the only noticeable safety hazard during that 2-1/2 hour freeway drive that day! Merging back on to the freeway after being unceremoniously presented with a big, fat fine, was something I don't wish on anyone. No wonder it's actually illegal to stop on the Autobahn (unless in an emergency).

As long as the Provincial Government and the OPP continue to convince themselves that what they are doing with these blitzes is in the name of safety (and not for financial gain), no progress will be made toward an efficient, intelligent AND SAFE driving philosophy as is demonstrated on the German Autobahn.

John Frewen-Lord

Absolutely spot on Jim. But it will take a brave politician to in effect REVERSE what's been 'achieved' (a political term) over the last 50 years or more. Germany never had speed limits on its Autobahnen (until certain stretches relatively recently), so nothing there to reverse. Same for Britain's roundabouts - not only have most been retained, in the early 1970s they actually took away some traffic lights and replaced them with mini-roundabouts. I guess things were less PC in those days. As a comparison with traffic lights, in Lincoln, UK, a few years ago, a perfectly good roundabout was replaced with multi-phased traffic lights. Result - traffic jams from morning to evening, where there were only some minor holdups in the rush hours previously. Go figure.

Roy G

First we must retrain all the yahoos on our roads and put in real laws that force old junkers off our roads. Inspections of cars should be done every year and a car over 10 years every six months. Drivers should be tested every 2 years or when they renew.The government of Canada should also get together with other governments around the world to come up with One World Wide Safety Standard, not the system we now have where a good car like say the Volkswagen Lupo which just misses the mark here but not by much, but can not be sold because it would cost too much to bring it up to North American specs. Our roads are not as bad most reporters say - in fact they are pretty good in most areas. Canada's land mass is 9.9 million sq. km; I am not sure how many kms of road there are but possibly more than England and Germany combined. The idea of a worldwide standard seems to be a good idea to me and forcing retesting at renewal seems to as well. I drive daily and have taken courses every few years just to keep up on new laws and car safety systems.

Mike T.

Jim, on the subject of roundabouts. Why is there such a reluctance in North America to install them? Don't they save fuel? What's worse than a dozen cars sitting idling at a red light when nothing is coming on the cross road?
Here in Woodstock they had the perfect chance to install at least three roundabouts in the newly-rebuilt road system around the new Toyota plant. What did we get? We got a plethora of traffic lights is what we got. Europe is light years ahead of us in many things automotive.


Politicians that are too concerned about re-election, as opposed to the advancement of the population as a whole. That's whats holding us back.


I can tell you what's holding us back, it's the loss of revenus that would come with safer drivers. Artificially low speed limits and lack of driver training ensure that the police will always have tickets to write.


Speeding fines are easy money. If we embraced Autobahns our police would need to be retrained to actually look for bad driving.

Jim Kenzie

Hi Mike:

My sentiments exactly.

There are a few enlightened jurisdictions, like the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, and even some in the States - New England, and some parts of Michigan.

Don't know what aperture the heads of traffic engineers across the rest of this continent are stuck into.

Jim Kenzie

Mike T.

Stop the press!! Since I wrote my Kenzie-inspired mini-rant about roundabouts and their absence around the Woodstock Toyota plant, the very next day a roundabout was announced in the local paper! It's going to be, not near the mega-traffic Toyota plant area but, in the opposite corner of the city - at 59 Hwy and county road 17. Oh well, it's a start. It will be built this summer.
Jim, you pondered "Don't know what aperture the heads of traffic engineers across the rest of this continent are stuck into". I'll e-mail you a pic of where I think their heads are at. I DARE you to print it in your blog :o)


The key here is what Jim said:

"They teach proper driving. They pass and enforce laws that demand proper driving."

Nobody seems to understand "keep right except to pass".

Too many times I have seen clueless dimwits cruising at 110 in lane 1 while the backwards cap, Honda Civic driving crowd are buzzing around them on the right creating unneeded problems.

Would it not be better if the Gov't took a look at driving schools & their mandatory curriculums? If you pass on the right in Germany you are breaking the law. If you don't move over while Herr Businessman in his 7 series BMW is trying to pass you at 180 in lane 1, you too are breaking the law.

Don't even get me started on public transit in Germany. Why can't heads of the local transit commissions spend some time over there to learn how things are done properly? Or better yet, why not spend some money to poach somebody from there to head one of our transit commissions?

Also, there are traffic roundabouts in Cambridge too.

Greg H

Jim, I don't know how frequently you're out to B.C., but we've been retrofitting traffic circles into road renewal projects for a number of years now. Google Maps satellite photos haven't caught up yet, but the circles are still indicated, like on the following map link (there's actually two at this interchange).


The local traffic engineers have been seeing the accident rates go down at intersections modified with a circle. Which is great considering that there has been a "period of adjustment" for drivers here.

So far, though, no circles have made it into truly large intersections.

Jim Kenzie

C'mon, Mike! This is a family, er, blog!

But I did love the pic, and I'm sure our fellow commentors can guess...


Jim Kenzie

Hi jrl:

We have all the laws we need here.

In Ontario at least, passing on the right is NOT illegal; but BEING passed on the right IS illegal.

As I have been saying for decades now, all we need is for the police to start enforcing, and for the Justices of the Peace to start convicting.

(When I have broached this subject to both groups, they each blame the other! I'll have to try and get them both in the same room at the same time...)

As for public transport, it's not only a matter of what to do, but how to pay for it.

Based on what I have read, what's generally known as "public transport" NEVER pays for itself - if it isn't massively subsidized, as it is in Germany, it never works.

The other thing we must understand is that, as Lee Iacocca once famously said, our automobile/highays system IS our "public transport" system.



Hi Greg:

I am out there fairly frequently; next time I will make a point of visiting some of these locations.

Now if only I could figure out how to convert that HTML code into a direct hyperlink! I know it IS possible using this blogging software; I just haven't reliably been able to figure it out.

For those interested, do what I did - cut-and-paste into Firefox and see what it is going to look like.

Good to see that White Rock's experience is no different than every other roundabout in the world.

Which begs my original question: what the heck is wrong with traffic engineers everywhere else??

Jim Kenzie


Having visited Germany four times since 1995 to visit relatives and with about 10000 km's of experience so far on the Autobahns and secondary routes, I'm always impressed by the superior driving skills, envious on the choice of cars and engines and depressed by the lack of driving skills and car choices back in Canada.
Driving them has hit my wallet hard but I adore driving them and it has made me a better driver overall.
The rules for the Autobahn are easy: pay attention, keep a consistent speed, both hands on the wheel, always shoulder- and mirror-check and keep right expect to pass.
Germans understand what Canadians do not: they're not an island onto themselves, they all must share the road and your personal needs are not above everyone else when on the road. In other words, no sense of entitlement. Of course they're exceptions but in Germany you don't see it very often.


Hi Terry:

I'll debate you on shoulder-check - if your mirrors are properly positioned, there's no need.

Even there they have us beat, with convex mirrors on both sides of the car - wider field of view.

On every other count, I'm 100 percent with you.

Jim Kenzie

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