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What are Canberra’s most annoying driving habits?

By Jane Speechley 18 March 2017 46

Photo of driver honking in traffic

Oooh, here we go …

Look, I think Canberra’s reputation for bad driving is undeserved (although there seems to be no shortage of people on my daily commute who are desperate to prove me wrong).

Sadly, the facts don’t back me up either. While we have one of the lowest road tolls in Australia – due in no small part to our smaller population – we have above average numbers of speeding and drink driving offences as well as more admissions to hospital for motor vehicle accidents.

And there’s even anecdotal evidence we pay higher insurance premiums as a result. Yikes.

So while I’d love to wax lyrical about all the ways in which Canberrans are skilled, courteous and safe drivers (and I’m sure many of us are) … isn’t it much more fun to talk about our bad driving habits?

Right-lane squatting

Canberra Traffic

It just wouldn’t be an article about bad driving habits in Canberra without mention of the right-lane squatter. When drivers are asked about annoying behaviour on the road, this one usually tops the list.

I theorise there are three sub-types of right-lane squatters.

The first is the blissfully ignorant drive, happily tootling along in that spacious right lane, oblivious to the fact that what they’re doing is inconsiderate (and, in many places, illegal).

The second is the arrogant, selfish driver who genuinely feels they – and usually, they alone – have both the right and the sheer driving skill to take ownership of the fast lane, above and beyond all others.

And the third is the vigilante, who is well aware they’re holding up other traffic, but sees it as their responsibility – nay, their duty – to hold all other drivers back to a reasonable speed, and thus, save them from themselves.

If you’re not turning, avoiding a hazard or overtaking – head back on over there to the left lane, sunshine.

Light creepers

Well intentioned, this practice is usually based on the (somewhat correct) notion that you use less fuel taking off from a slow speed, than you do starting from a complete stop.
In reality, the savings come from driving smoothly most of the time – keeping the revs low and avoiding major acceleration. So if you’re speeding and braking hard, dodging through traffic and careering around corners before coming to a sudden crawl – you’re doing it wrong.

Never mind that stopping prematurely at an intersection can block other vehicles from entering the turn lanes.

When I see someone creeping slowly towards the red light, I just want to walk up to their window, hand them a $2 coin and say, ‘There! There’s your fuel saving! Now just STOP!’

Merge: FAIL

I don’t want to just target individuals here, so the blame for this bad habit is equally shared between the three parties involved.

First, the person merging onto the highway. Terrified of the fast-moving traffic, they drop down to a crawl – heck, maybe they even come to a complete stop. Great! Now all you have to do is sit there at the end of the lane, traffic banking up behind you while you wait for someone on the 80-100kmph highway to stop and let you in.

Equally at fault, however, is the person on the motorway who refuses to adjust their position or speed to allow for merging traffic. Gripping their steering wheel tightly, they bed down in that left lane, determined that no one – NO ONE – is going to enter that lane ahead of them. Not today. Not on their watch.

And finally, there’s a special place in purgatory for the oblivious person cruising along in the right lane (when they shouldn’t be there in the first place), and therefore, stopping anyone else from giving way to merging traffic. You, sir, are an imbecile.

Squaring off at roundabouts

Honestly, how do so many locals keep getting roundabouts wrong?

For starters, the name is pretty self-explanatory. And we have so many of them around here, it’s not like you don’t get a chance to practise.

Two simple rules. Give way to your right. Give way to traffic already on the roundabout.

And by the way, if you can’t safely negotiate a standard roundabout, you should stay right away from the swirling vortex that is the Barton Highway/Gundaroo Drive intersection.

That thing will eat you alive.

Dangerously polite

I’m quite a believer in good old fashioned manners. Say please and thank you, hold the door, allow others to be served first. When you’re at dinner, at work, or meeting with friends, these simple social graces help make everyone feel comfortable and valued.

You know where these good manners have no place at all? At a four-way intersection. No matter how generous you’re feeling, if you’re on my right, I’m legally obliged to give way to you. And I will.

But what’s that? I got there marginally earlier, so you think I should go first? Or you‘re busy, or distracted, and think I should just go on ahead through the intersection. Wait, are you waving me through … or not? I’ll go, no, wait, you go, no, I’ll go …

While your commitment to niceness is admirable, it really is much easier and safer if we all just follow the rules.

And here’s the kicker: if you take their wave-through and an accident results, guess who’s still at fault? Try proving a ‘wave’ in court …

Brake tappers

Speaking of accidents, this has to be one of the more dangerous habits. We’ve all seen them – those folks pelting down the parkway, swapping at any given time between full acceleration and sudden braking.

Picture Lawrence Fishburne playing Morpheus in The Matrix when I say, ‘What if I told you … there’s more to driving than full speed and complete stop?’

You’re wasting fuel, causing unnecessary wear-and-tear on your car, and probably sending your own blood pressure through the roof.

Ease up – use your gears and moderate

Now, that being said, there is one instance when I think brake tapping is acceptable …

Hating on tail-gating

Yes, even I will admit to a gentle tap on the brake lights, to let the tail-gating driver behind me know that I don’t particularly want to see the pores on their nose in my rear view mirror, thanks all the same.

Could tail-gating be the worst driving offence of all? It certainly ticks many of the boxes: annoying, dangerous, arrogant …

It also shows a great lack of respect for your car, as sitting so close behind the car in front means you’re much more like to be hit with all the road debris they’re kicking up …

Over to you – are you guilty of any of these offences? What bad driving habits annoy you the most? And what do you think are the most common in the ACT?

What’s Your opinion?


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46 Responses to
What are Canberra’s most annoying driving habits?
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Ryoma 8:10 am 02 May 17

Great topic. For me, two things stand out.

1) Tailgating. This is just flat out dangerous. I imagine few of us appreciate someone else riding right on our tails, so why do so many of us seem to do it to others?

I remember driving in winter around 4-5 years ago on a foggy morning, and seeing a 6-car pile-up on Gundaroo Drive. Thankfully, it was only minor damage, but in such conditions, it was patently obvious tailgating was to blame for all 5 of the following cars. Thanks to their collective stupidity, everyone else was late to work that day as well.

2) USE YOUR LIGHTS. Your lights are not only there for your personal purposes – they exist so that other cars can see you. I drive a black car, and am very aware that in low light conditions it’s hard to see. So if I’m driving with a lot of shadow around, be that a curving country road surrounded by forest, or the weather is overcast, then I put my lights on. I’d much rather do that than have near misses or worse because someone doesn’t see me until the last minute.

Likewise, I will often put my lights on in bright weather too. It can be very hard to see what’s coming if you’re trying to turn across an intersection and are looking directly into the sun. In this situation, my dark car stands out, but many others (white and silver cars especially) don’t.

As with many things, these behaviours require us to simply act with common courtesy. *Cue old man rant – “what’s wrong with people these days, not common any more, when I was a boy etc”* (smirks)

wildturkeycanoe 7:50 am 01 May 17

I fully agree about 5 yearly retests, it would certainly get some incompetent people off the road or correct their dysfunction.
I am glad I was defensive walking the other day while crossing the road. A stereotypical person in a stereotypical car turned into the street I was crossing, with no indicator. Guess why. Mobile phone in their hand. The message is not getting through to people, so something needs to be done to hammer it into their brains.

AngryIan 6:50 pm 30 Apr 17

Easy solution. Retest drivers every 5 years when their licence is to be renewed. If they can’t do roundabouts properly, lane merging and stay left they get their licence immediately cancelled and they have to start all over again. Maybe make it they have to get a full, or at least P plate, motor bike licence first.

wottaway 3:50 pm 28 Mar 17

I would love to see the blood pressure and pulse rate figures for tailgaters. They should be way outside the range of ‘ normal ‘, and if not, it means they have no idea of the meaning of a hazard and or consequences of their habits. People have the idea they have the best possible reflexes and better than anyone else, until one day they suddenly find out that they didn’t. (I nearly said they admitted they were wrong ).
I’ve been teaching for thirty years and answers I’ve been given about correct following distances soon make you realise why there are tailgaters.

JC 7:06 pm 26 Mar 17

gildrsleeve said :

The safest way to deal with tailgaters is to use some basic defensive driving:

1 — Staying in lane, slow down noticeably, but don’t drive below the road’s minimum speed limit (if there is one).

Drive this slow for maybe a minute or two.

2 — Speed up to the speed limit again, staying aware of what the tailgater does.

3a — If the tailgater barrels up behind you once more, then reduce your speed again and STAY at that speed. They will pass you or leave the road sooner or later.

3b — If the tailgater stays back and gives you the room, then they got the message. This is the tailgater who probably doesn’t quite believe they drive too close to others, and who may start creeping too close again — in which case, repeat the treatment, staying slow for a bit longer.

4 — Be ready to change lanes if and when you judge it safer to do that. My experience is, though, that the determined tailgater is already driving too close for me to change safely; I’ve had two tailgaters not wait for me to get fully into my new lane before they high-tail it past me, nearly clipping my car as they go — not the outcome needed! So I don’t do that anymore. (In the last 20 years, I’ve had maybe a dozen tailgaters, all but one in Canberra.)

The method works on all roads, but is most necessary on limited-access roads, that is, roads with exit and entry ramps, and overpasses and underpasses instead of level-ground intersections.

Roads that have traffic lights, roundabouts, left-turn lanes, right-turn lanes, stop or give-way signs, plain old-fashioned crossroads, or unregulated T intersections, are all open-access roads, no matter how many traffic lanes there are in each direction. Open access roads like these HAVE NO PASSING LANES, although unusually slow drivers must keep left for as long as they can. (We couldn’t make any legal right turns if the right lanes of these roads were reserved only for passing, right?)

Under no circumstances except emergencies, or when directed to by police officers, may any driver legally drive over the speed limit. Try getting caught for accelerating above the limit just to pass another driver, and see how big the fine is. Seriously, it’s no fun. Only a very laid-back cop would forgive a speeder by giving just a warning.

One of the first things I learned in my driving lessons — lo, these many years ago! — is that the driver in front always controls the driver behind. Of course, that isn’t literally true, but the point is that the tailgater almost always wants to reverse that fact, or at least make you believe the fact is reversed.

The thing I like about the defensive-driving method is that even under considerable pressure, I still feel like *I’m* the one in control, which gives me confidence — and that’s important when all I want is to get where I’m going with a minimum of hassle!

You lost me at point 1. What a silly bit of advice.

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