The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Are you road rude? Discourteous drivers on the rise, survey finds

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VANCOUVER - Has driver courtesy been tossed out the car window? Is the traffic "thank you" wave dead?

Drivers polled for the Canadian Automobile Association seem to think so.

The poll released Monday found three out of four Canadians surveyed felt drivers are showing more annoying habits today than they were five years ago, compared to just two per cent who said other drivers have grown less irritating.

Numerous surveys and ongoing research by the Insurance Corporation of B.C. agrees driver courtesy is gradually eroding, said ICBC psychologist John Vavrik.

"People generally feel there's a lack of courtesy, there's a lot of anger out there and people are concerned about running into aggressive drivers," Vavrik said.

Topping the list of bad manners for those polled in the CAA survey are road rage and being cut off in traffic, with 86 per cent of respondents citing those behaviours. Texting or talking on the phone, tailgating, failing to use signals and tossing trash out the window also rank high on the list of irritations.

All behaviours that can be corrected, said Ian Jack, a spokesman for the automobile association.

"They're all the sorts of things that we were told when we took driving lessons, or did our driving test and first got our license, that we really shouldn't do," he said.

The problem has become so pronounced in B.C. that the Crown insurance provider launched an advertising campaign reminding people to indicate they're thankful for a traffic kindness.

"We're tying to resurrect the wave," Vavrik said of the simple tip of the hand that has become increasingly rare on Canadian roadways.

There's a general tendency to think that everyone in traffic is wound up and lacks courtesy, he said, so ICBC is trying to change that perception.

Jack said the first step to fixing the problem is recognizing that all drivers could be a bit better — even yourself.

"The odds are that if we're civil to other people, most — not all — but most, will be civil back," Jack said.

One sticky issue may be getting drivers to admit they, too, could be a better driver.

A recent ICBC survey showed drivers gave their performance on the road a B+ while they graded other drivers around them a C+.

"People have a hard time looking in the mirror and recognizing that they're part of the problem," Vavrik said.

It's not just an issue of bad manners either. Vavrik said hot headed drivers are impaired because they don't recognize hazards and make poor judgments.

It's a problem that could lead to injury or even death, Jack said.

"These habits that seem a little bit uncivil are the same ones that could lead you or your loved ones to be killed one day," he said. "This isn't a matter of wearing white gloves and extending your pinky as you turn left and turn right, it's a matter of literally life and death for hundreds of Canadians every year."

The cost of vehicle accidents to the Canadian economy is in the billions every year, said Michel Bedard, the director of the Centre for Research on Safe Driving at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont.

"If we all kind of relax a bit more, slow down a bit more, I think it would change the whole road environment," Bedard said. "Our philosophy is: most crashes are preventable."

Peter Christianson, president of Young Drivers of Canada, said his driving school teaches students the courtesy of space, leaving enough space ahead of their vehicle to allow someone in and making sure the driver beside you has space to move over if necessary.

"It's just thinking about everybody else on the road," he said. "When you do that, traffic just works naturally and in fact you don't have to wave because its just the way everybody drives."

The Canadian Automobile Association survey of 5,044 Canadians is considered accurate to within 1.38 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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