Where are the Bad Drivers?

Are they all on the golf course?

Montreal is infamous for their bad drivers. I hear it all the time. People keep telling me how bad they drive. But I think I’ll need some clarifications. Because after three years, I still have not found that people drive bad enough to warrant that reputation. I have been fortunate to see much of the city and the province and each time I keep my eyes open for that pocket of ‘mechant conducteurs’ that will tip the scales. I can’t say I’ve found them yet.

I’m not suggesting that there are not bad drivers. There are a fair share out there for a city this size. Tailgating is a well accepted custom. Truck drivers are amazingly aggressive considering they could really do some harm. And minivan drivers seem to be trying to overcompensate for having to drive a family vehicle.

There are other cities known for bad drivers. Paris, New York, Rome. But I don’t see this city stacking up to them in this category. Two other cities that come to mind that have bad drivers but are not known for them are Toronto and Chicago. Closer in size, but again the aggressiveness is much higher in those cities.

But I want to hear from you. Is there a particular area that has a concentration of bad drivers? I haven’t been west of Dorval much, so is it there? Is it Pierrefonds? I drove through Hampsted the other day and things were a bit crazy. I do have to say that the drivers in Ste-Julie love speeding and blowing stop signs.

Also, what particular acts do you consider characteristic of bad drivers? Running reds, speeding (how fast above the speed limit), jumping a red in the right lane (a Chicago fave), not yielding right of way, etc. Or maybe I’m misinterpreting it. Does a bad driver have to be an aggressive one? Or is that they are clumsy with their cars? Or could it even be that they don’t drive fast enough or take too long to start up from red lights.

And lastly, If you feel the drivers here in Montreal are bad, what are you comparing them to? Drivers in Boucherville? Chateauguay? Blainville? Tadousac? Ottawa? Toronto? Boston? New York? Vancouver?

Above all remember this is not a reproach. I am honestly curious where the reputation comes from.

7 Comments so far

  1. Michel (unregistered) on July 26th, 2006 @ 11:28 pm

    I agree with you most drivers are adequate. We have a unique way of driving, which is not the same as elsewhere.

    For example, New York, you have to assume the other driver will let you go on his lane, never will you ever see a hole anywhere, you want to go to the left lane, you signal left and 2 “clicks” later, you move left, no matter what is there. In here, some people will accelerate so you will not go through, but you will anyways.

    Americans are pissed because of the MPH – Km/H relationship. Canadians are pissed because most is written in French. But all in all, it’s quite adequate. Hey, it’s unique, what can we do ^_^

    The worst case I’ve seen is probably for sunday drivers. Sunday driving has always caused me headaches. People are all tipsy-turvy and doing whatever they can to annoy you. But then, I’m quite sure it’s not only in Montreal.

  2. Long Nguyen (unregistered) on July 27th, 2006 @ 12:25 am

    Sure, they can drive and stop, but when comes the time to open doors, they close their eyes and swing the door open like a relative just died. Sliding doors are the best, but then people will just come out without looking. Whatever happened to using eyes?

    I don’t think people compare driving from one city to another. People compare driving (and everything else) with the way they would do it themselves.

  3. sherry (unregistered) on July 27th, 2006 @ 9:27 am

    The thing that never fails to piss me off is when people fail to use their flashers and instead just swerve right on into another lane without any warning.

    I can’t make many comparisons though.

  4. Frenchism (unregistered) on July 27th, 2006 @ 11:21 am

    I think the really bad drivers are not in North America. As a pedestrian, biker, and occasional driver in Toronto, even though the traffic is dense it’s always jammed, I find torontonians quite respectful to each other and absolutely careful when they deal with pedestrian (this is the only city where people stop for pedestrians at crossings). Like every other big cities it also has its share of speeding or careless drivers, but I’d say it’s quite safe for a city this size. MontrĂ©al isn’t that dangerous, the thing is they got somehow this “french” bad habit of speeding all the time. As for Europe, I’d says French southerner (this is where I’m from) and Italian are much worse. Try to drive half a day in marseilles and you’ll understand. All in all, the worst i’ve ever seen is Mexico, although I haven’t drove there. There is simply no rule respected and it’s the fastest and the smartest who got the right of way. Size is also a good parameter to take into account, hence big SUV and buses (who drive like small cars) ALWAYS have right of way.
    Suprinsingly, I still haven’t seen any accident there.

  5. Justin (unregistered) on July 27th, 2006 @ 11:22 am

    A quick tip to cyclists about riding in Montreal. I’ve been doing it for a while.

    1) If riding where traffic is slow, say an area like St-Laurent where you are riding faster then the traffic, ride in the middle of the road, not on the sides. No one opens doors in the middle of the road.. ok, almost no one.

    2) If you are riding under an overpass or an area where it’s tight and the cars/trucks are flying past, move over a little to the middle of the road. Not dead middle but take up enough space that they have to switch lanes to the left. They’ll probably honk at you and swear but it’ll keep them from driving by so close as to throw you off your bike.

    3) Remember you have as much right to ride your bike as they have to drive their car.. Hell, IMHO more so since we aren’t polluting.

    As for the topic at hand, last night while riding home from a bike race in Laval, a woman near Solid Gold on St-Laurent was going north on the south bound side. Realizing her mistake (and what a mistake) she decides to do a 180.. right into me! Or nearly me, she hit the brakes at the last minute. She then promptly blocked the road causing everyone to hit the brakes and honk like nutters.

    Oh ya, we have our fair share of whackos behind the wheel.


  6. blork (unregistered) on July 27th, 2006 @ 2:23 pm

    Below is a short version of a longer hypothesis I’ve been making mental notes on for several years.

    North American drivers, for the most part, drive in a very cartesian manner that puts “the rules” first. Such people will stop and wait at a red light even if they’re in the middle of a just-tilled prairie wheat field and can see that for 50 miles in all directions there are no cars.

    European (and Asian) drivers, for the most part, drive in a very organic manner that puts “natural law” first. According to natural law, for example, bigger vehicles have the right of way over smaller ones (because *ahem* they are bigger), you can park your car whereever it fits, and the only valid role of traffic lights is to help the flow of traffic when things are congested. “Rules” are arbitrary and are therefore frowned upon.

    Generally speaking, when most people drive the same way — whichever way — things work well because everyone has the same set of expectations. The problems arise when you mix the types, because then you get conflicts and unexpected behaviour.

    Montreal is something of a hybrid — a mix of North American and Eurpean cultures. This is reflected on the roads, where we have both kinds of drivers. As a result, the organic drivers think the cartesian drivers are annoying, but more importantly, the cartesian drivers think the organic drivers are INSANE!

    You get the same thing in any big city where cultures mix. For example, in Vancouver there is all this folklore about how bad the Asian drivers are. But there it’s ethnically-based. Same with NYC, where everyone complains about the “foreign” taxi drivers. But here in Montreal the organic drivers are not so easy to spot. It could be anybody. As such, the folklore about bad drivers gets diffused out to just “Montreal drivers.”

    Admittedly, the research for this hypothesis is purely anecdotal.

  7. Frank (unregistered) on July 28th, 2006 @ 12:56 am

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Michel, I found that New York had those organic rules that blork mentioned. There is jostling for position, but they respect (kinda) the flow of traffic. I actually enjoyed driving the length of Manhattan once. I was surprised to find Sunday drivers alive and kicking here after not seeing them for decades.

    Long, I would say that most people in large cities would find other drivers as bad, but I think a city would have to be compared to others to have a reputation. People in Burlington may find their drivers are bad, but I don’t think it would correlate to a reputation.

    Sherry, I agree, but I have seen it more in other places. I was actually surprised to see people use their flashers and people actually let them merge.

    Frenchism, I would actually challenge the notion that people here drive fast. 120km/hr seems to be the average speed on the expressways. There is an occasional speeder, but not more than usual. In the Midwest, Ontario, and North Carolina, I found people drive 130km/hr and over. I don’t know if it is a northeast thing because people in Vermont don’t go over 105km/hr. Someone told me that Torontonians actual boldly cross the street and point to oncoming cars to oblige them to stop. I guess each place has it’s customs.

    Justin, I’m all for biking, though I still have trouble with bikers disrespecting others using the road. I agree with your points, I’m talking more about running stop signs with cars (or other bikers) present or going the wrong way down streets like St-Laurent. I check my mirror everytime, but when a bike comes flying down the wrong direction, they can be hard to see or predict. On problem intersection is Rachel & St-Laurent where there is a light for bikes, but they don’t respect it. Turning cars are left with a very short window to turn because of it and bikers who blow the light make it that much more difficult.

    And lastly, blork, I agree with your analysis of both North American and European drivers. I really enjoyed driving in Paris. There seem to be two overriding rules. First, the person on the right has the right of way in all cases. Second, everything in front of you (you car or other cars) is your business. Everything behind you is everyone else’s business. So if you want to merge right and you (your body) is forward of their car, you can start merging and they have to back off. Once you follow these rules, those massive round-abouts like at the Arc de Triomphe are so much easier to take. Intense, but managable. That kind of organic driving makes so much more sense in that density. The rules were different, but people followed them.

    I guess my difficulty with all this is that I grew up in the cartesian system, but instead of the city I grew up in turning to an organic system, it was more dog-eat-dog. “I don’t care if you have the right of way, if I can call your bluff and get ahead of you, I will.” So in my eye people here drive reasonably well. There are rule-breakers, but not on an overwhelming scale. It still seems managable to me.

    Thank you all for the comments again. I apologize for not budging from my position, but I still really don’t see where the reputation comes from. I have seen worse drivers in other places that don’t have a reputation.

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