By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published December 04, 2009
When should we turn a blind eye to violations of the Highway Traffic Act?
A recent Hamilton Spectator article reports on the controversy being stirred up because Hamilton police officers are finally ticketing motorists for illegally parking on the wrong side of the street.
Wrong-side parking is illegal under both the Provincial Highway Traffic Act and city by-laws. It is also potentially dangerous, because on two-way streets it requires the motorist to drive against the direction of oncoming traffic (when pulling in and again when pulling out). In fact, I personally witnessed a car being ticketed for this offence a few years ago in London (Ontario).
Although one can argue that this offence is relatively minor, driving the wrong way down a street even for a short distance does clearly pose some risk.
I have been "startled" (as motorists say) by cars suddenly pulling out directly in front of me from the wrong side of the street while riding through Westdale. It is indeed quite frightening to feel suddenly like you're going to have a head on-collision with a car!
Residents are irate at being ticketed, and are demanding that enforcement stops. What's more, instead of commending police for enforcing the law, some councillors are telling them to forget about it. The attitude seems to be: Let's just turn a blind eye to this particular flouting of the law.
Hmmm, are these perhaps the same people who were appalled at cyclists "flouting the law" and demanded a "crackdown" last summer? There really does seem there is a double standard at work here.
This illustrates the fact that people naturally understand and accept that it is socially acceptable to break some laws, either because the consequences are usually not severe (such as this case, and other parking violations), or because "everyone does it" (such as driving 120 km/h on a freeway limited at 100 km/h).
What upsets me is the blatant double standard it illustrates.
Last summer the Spectator (and its sister publication, the Toronto Star) stirred up another controversy, but that time it was over cyclists rolling through stop signs and allegedly flouting other traffic laws.
However, councillors (and newspaper editors) didn't respond by saying "let's cut the cyclists some slack, they aren't hurting anyone; we should focus on more serious infractions". The reaction was quite the opposite, with calls for a severe crack-down on the cyclists!
Why do many motorists expect cyclists to be far more law-abiding than themselves, especially when the consequences of law-breaking by cyclists is so much less serious?
I suspect it is simply because the social norms are different for motorists and cyclists (for obvious reasons), and that a non-cycling motorist is not aware of this difference.
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