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My Oddly Specific Fear

A Very Honest French Sign. St Michel, France, August 2015
A Very Honest French Sign. St Michel, France, August 2015

Most people are scared of something—heights, spiders, committing to a serious relationship, clowns, the Canada Revenue Agency (note the comma between “clowns” and “Canada Revenue Agency”, I don’t want to be audited, thank you), open water, unemployment, mice, failure…

Yes, we are all a little neurotic in our own way.

Well, my fear is oddly specific: I’m scared of cars making a right turn at the red light.

Each country’s set of road rules has a few idiosyncrasies. For instance, French are completely obsessed with “la priorité à droite”, a unique piece of Gallic logic. Basically, the driver emerging from the rightmost road at an intersection has the priority to go cross that intersection first, or even to turn onto another road. So, you may find a driver stops on a larger road to allow a vehicle waiting on a side road to turn onto the larger road. Yes, it defies common sense. The archaic rule is very much still practiced on roundabouts in urban areas and on deserted stretches of roads in rural settings. It keeps foreign drivers on their toes when approaching road junctions, especially on the edge of town, because a driver can jump out from the right and rightfully assume he has the right of way. Bam! Accident.

This is nothing, though. I have been told that entire countries agreed to drive on the wrong side of the road—pure madness! (Just kidding, British Empire.)

In Canada, the rule I hate the most is the “right turn on red”: unless a sign tells you not to, you may make a right turn facing a red light as long as you first come to a complete stop and wait until the way is clear. However, you still have to signal your turn and yield to pedestrians and others using the road.

When I first drove in Canada, I had to make such a turn every day to go home. It was terrifying to see the cars driving at full speed on Merivale and try to ease into the flow traffic as other impatient drivers behind me were honking. “Look, can’t we just be Canadian and wait until the light turns green?” I wanted to shout.

But I hate this “right turn on red” rule even more as a pedestrian. As I wrote above, drivers are supposed to yield to pedestrians who have the green light to cross. But do you know what most drivers do? They forget the mere existence of people without wheels. Their eyes are on the traffic as they try to find a gap in the traffic and turn as quickly as they can. Ooops, too bad, right in front of you, a pedestrian was crossing.

I find myself in this situation every day. I usually try to make eye contact with the driver to remind him that I have the right of way, the “walk” signal, and that I’m crossing the road. “Eh eh, here buddy, look at me!” It doesn’t work very well. Either you look tiny compared to the driver of a badass pickup truck, either the window are tinted, either the driver is on the phone (!) or looking to the opposite direction… it’s very rare that a driver notices my lame attempts at signaling I’m crossing.

Last winter, a car bumped into me making a right turn as I was crossing. She had been looking to the left because she was checking the traffic. I was coming from the right. Oh, she didn’t hurt me at all—fortunately, she turned slowly and I jumped back as soon as it became obvious that she was going to… run over me?

Immediately she stopped the car and backed out.

“Fuck!” I shouted. “Didn’t you see me, lady? Pedestrian green light here!”

To her credit, she seemed genuinely horrified by what could have happened if she has turned faster and hit me at full speed. I wasn’t hurt, I was mad. The bumper had just hit my winter jacket, it was fine. But my heart was beating fast because it had been the third close encounter with a bumper that week.

The woman drove away and my red-light-turn paranoia increased.

The worst part is, I’m not jaywalking. I’m crossing with the light, as I’ve been told when I was a kid. It’s infuriating.

I wish there were more safe spaces for people on foot but I feel the battle is lost here, especially in the suburb. Everybody is driving rather than walking.

Just… just stop scaring me when I cross the street, alright?

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