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Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the Right

Trucking is one of the few jobs where the workplace is shared with the public. There are some car drivers who actually enjoy driving and as a consequence, are skilled behind the wheel. Most of them, however, are amateurs who drive out of necessity, and generally have scant regard for the rules of the road.

In contrast, we are by definition, professionals. We are trained to safely operate the largest vehicles on the road and we are paid to do it. You’d think that our driving skills would be beyond reproach wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

No one can honestly be expected to know the entire contents of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA), but as professionals, we should at least know the basics. There are, however, two conflicting regulations in the HTA that often result in a dangerous free-for-all on our multi-lane highways.

HTA regulation 147 states that:
‘Any vehicle travelling upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at that time and place shall, where practicable, be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic or as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway.’

Also, regulation 150 states that:

‘The driver of a motor vehicle may overtake and pass to the right of another vehicle only where the movement can be made in safety and,
(a) the vehicle overtaken is making or about to make a left turn or its driver has signaled his or her intention to make a left turn;
(b) is made on a highway with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lines of vehicles in each direction; or
(c) is made on a highway designated for the use of one-way traffic only.’

Bearing in mind these rules, and given that trucks always travel at less than the normal speed of the Ontario 400-series highway traffic, we should drive in the right-hand lane. But then we’re being told that it’s OK to pass on the right if it’s safe to do so.

Unfortunately, drivers interpret these ambiguous rules in very different ways. There is the potential for more collisions than if passing on the right were to be outlawed.

Having spent two thirds of my driving career in the U.K., I can testify that lane discipline works. If people would only follow the rules, traffic would flow smoother and highway driving would be safer for all concerned. It never ceases to amaze me just how many so-called professional drivers there are in North America that don’t seem to be aware of, or care about, these particular rules.

Truck drivers frequently join the highway, move to the centre lane thinking that it’s the truck’s travel lane. It’s not and it causes all kinds of problems. Traffic slows and frustrates other road users. Some drivers decide to pass on the right, which although legal, is potentially dangerous as other vehicles may pull to the right without checking their blind spot. Then there are the cars that will pass the truck on the left. Although this is the proper way to pass, often they will not accelerate enough before joining the traffic flow in the outside lane. Again, this is another potentially dangerous move. Then there’s the slightly faster truck coming up behind the lane-hog; how can he pass safely and legally? There have been occasions when I’ve witnessed ‘that guy’ running the left lane to pass. It may gain him a couple of minutes, but gives all truckers a bad name.

Excuses for hogging the centre lane abound: I’ve overheard it said that drivers always have an escape route if they need it. They don’t. Travelling in the right lane always ensures that you have an escape route: the shoulder. Others cite low bridges as their reason for being out there. Unless you’re hauling an oversize load, you’ll fit under the bridge. Most have a minimum clearance of 4.2m and dry vans are 4.15m high. Many though, are just plain lazy and inconsiderate drivers who can't be bothered to change lanes when required.

Quite often, when I’m travelling along our 400-series highways, I find myself singing (murdering?) the lyrics to Stealers Wheel’s 1972 debut single:

Yes I'm stuck in the middle with you,
And I'm wondering what it is I should do,
It's so hard to keep this smile on my face,
Losing control, yeah, I'm all over the place,
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

The only trouble is that there are no clowns to left of me, or jokers to the right; they are all sitting in the middle lane impeding the flow of traffic. So the next time you’re travelling one of our major highways, spare a thought for other road users. Show some professionalism, courtesy and keep right except to pass.

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