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The Globe and Mail

Canada's worst drivers are back, and they're all too real

Don't go looking for realness on reality television. The inescapable truth of most reality shows is that they're not relatable to the average person.

Are we really expected to live vicariously through ex-NHLers attempting triple Lutzes on Battle of the Blades (CBC, 8 p.m.)? Is there any form of personal connection to watching semi-famous people bungle the samba on Dancing with the Stars (ABC, CTV, 8 p.m.)? The average viewer likely has more in common with the human cartoon characters on Two and a Half Men (CBS, CTV, 8 p.m.).

More often than not, the modern-day reality show exists to allow us to partake of weird and occasionally unsettling lifestyles from a safe distance – hence the continuing appeal of programs like Hoarders (A&E, 9 p.m.) and Man Vs. Food (OLN, 10 p.m.). If you see your life reflected in either of these shows, get thee to a therapist.

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The notable exception to the unreality rule is Canada's Worst Driver (Discovery, 10 p.m.), which continues to shine a harsh light on some of the delinquent drivers that terrorize our roadways. Not many things on TV can make me cringe, but this show gives me the willies.

And clearly people are engaged by these terrible motorists. Back tonight for its seventh season, Canada's Worst Driver, or CWD, ranks as the highest-rated non-sports program on a Canadian specialty channel. The sixth season averaged 746,000 viewers per episode and the finale drew an astounding 925,000 viewers. By random comparison, Being Erica (CBC, 9 p.m.) is currently averaging around 300,000 Canadian viewers each Monday night.

The CWD viewing audience will immediately resume tonight because, as host Andrew Younghusband points out, there are bad drivers in every Canadian city. We see them, we know them and, if we're unfortunate, we run into them.

The first episode introduces viewers to the eight individuals tapped for the dubious distinction. Each bad driver has been nominated for the show by a friend or family member, and each is uniquely ill-equipped to drive a motor vehicle in his or her own way.

Tonight, meet Shirley, a nervous retiree comfortable only driving on the single-lane roads near her home in Port Caledonia, N.S. Once on major roadways, however, she's a nervous wreck incapable of merging or staying in her lane. Worse yet, whenever she gets confused, she comes to a dead stop.

Even more unsure is Lethbridge, Alta., native Sly, a doddering sort who depends entirely on a GPS device to tell him where he's going. A handheld GPS device, mind you, which is illegal to use while driving anywhere in Canada. Incredibly, Sly works as a deliveryman.

Worst of all is Afiya, a young woman with a heavy foot and a seeming lack of interest in anyone else on the road. The cameras capture Afiya driving in her hometown of Montreal and it's terrifying to watch her running red lights, weaving through traffic and shrieking at pedestrians to get out of her way.

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And there are moments that will make the average driver's blood run cold. The opening challenge for the CWD candidates involves a one-hour trek to the driving rehabilitation centre. Afiya is still in a rush and pushes it to 130 kilometres an hour – 50 kms over the posted limit! Fearing for his life, the cameraman in the back seat asks her to pull over, after which Afiya is transported to the centre in a minivan.

When time comes for the assessment challenge, watch out. The test car is painted to resemble the Canadian flag and the drivers are required to perform a backing-up procedure using their mirrors (none of them use the mirrors and grind the car against concrete barriers), drive in reverse down a gauntlet of wheel covers (none of them make it) and then navigate their way through a slalom course of Styrofoam hockey player standees.

More than half smash the players, and by the time the assessment is finished, the test car is starting to look like a large red-and-white raisin.

Unlike fox-trotting celebrities or Being Erica, this is water-cooler television. Even for viewers who take public transit, Canada's Worst Driver is highly relatable material and more than a little bit scary. After witnessing all the carnage in the first show, it suddenly hits you: These people already have driver's licences. Be afraid.

Check local listings.

John Doyle will return.

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