Tuesday, August 10, 2010


As I wrote last year, the drivers of Montpellier horrify intrigue me.

France’s love affair with the car is as strong as Canada’s. The French have just as many cars per capita as we do. Like Ottawa, rush hour in and out of Montpellier features car after car after car, bumper to bumper, with just one person, alone in their tiny rolling kingdom. (Like Canada, public transit in Montpellier seems relegated to the poor and the young, or the green.)

In Montpellier itself, with its narrow streets, small cars moving unpredictably from one skinny lane to another, motorcycles squeezing in the tiny spaces between the lines of cars...every time I get out of the car in France safely, I feel I’ve cheated death, or at least, the inconvenience of an insurance claim.  It’s a fluid dance of danger. Or so it seems. Yet in the six weeks in Montpellier, on the road to somewhere almost every day, not once did I see a collision in all this seeming chaos. Here’s something else I didn’t see once in those six weeks: a driver holding a cell phone while driving. Yes, it’s illegal in France to use a handheld cell while driving. But it’s also illegal in Ontario and fat lot of good it’s done us here.  (Honest, Officer, I always drive with my hand up to my ear.)

It got me thinking. Is there something counter-intuitive here? Could it be that the demands of more dangerous driving conditions – narrow roads, denser traffic, less respect for what Canadians view as the normal conventions of driving – lead to safer drivers? Does the focus that driving requires in Montpellier mean that everyone is paying more attention?  Simply because they have to?  

In Canada, do our oh-so-wide roads and comparatively sparse traffic circulation lull us into a false sense of security? Talking on the phone while driving – or any of the other myriad distractions that Canadian drivers indulge in – doesn’t seem like much, because driving is so uncomplicated. We add complexity to a simple task, which works…until something unexpected happens.

Interestingly, France has fewer car collisions reported than Canada does (not counting all those parking dings), but France has more injuries and deaths from its collisions. So when something goes wrong in France, it goes very wrong. Or perhaps Canada isn’t the only country that has “unreported crimes”?

Subscribing to this blog through RSS or email is easy! Just click on the subscribe link to the left ←

No comments:

Post a Comment