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Traffic safety rules enforcement needed, not awareness

I blame it on the sun, fleeting though it may have been.

Last weekend, faced with the prospect of five potentially rain-free days in February, with daytime temperatures hovering around the eight-degree mark, I put my motorcycle back on the road for the season. I'm fully aware that doing this virtually guarantees 13 more weeks of rain, or sub-zero temperatures or both. I'm sorry. I couldn't help myself.

The first ride of the year is always difficult. Getting used to the bike again requires shedding months of driving inside a climate-controlled, six-airbag metal cage with a radio.

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It took about five minutes in traffic to remember what I had almost forgotten over the winter: In Vancouver, bad drivers aren't the exception – they're the rule.

You feel this on a motorbike in a way you don't feel it in a car. It has to do with being exposed and acutely aware of everything going on around you as you move at the speed of traffic.

What you learn in a hurry is that car drivers in Vancouver are an oblivious and self-involved lot who appear to pay little attention to the task at hand: piloting a couple of tonnes of steel and plastic through obstacles at a high rate of speed.

Coincidentally this week, the City of Vancouver unveiled its newest campaign to "raise awareness" about traffic safety. It's called "People are Fragile" and imagines us all as shiny porcelain figurines just waiting to be smashed.

The campaign targets pedestrians, cyclists and drivers equally: pedestrians for their propensity to jaywalk; cyclists because they tend to run stop signs; and drivers because they speed and tend to barrel through intersections with little regard for the aforementioned fragility.

I can appreciate the city's efforts to make pedestrians more aware of the dangers around them. I also appreciate the effort (futile though it may be) to teach cyclists to stop for stop signs and obey the rules of the road.

But it's the behaviour of drivers that threatens everyone.

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Tailgating, failing to shoulder-check before changing lanes, failing to signal, speeding, running red lights, and ignoring "no-turn" signals are just a few of the common infractions. We've all followed drivers who do all of the above in the space of a few blocks. We've also followed the driver going 35 kilometres an hour in the left-hand lane causing those around them to behave erratically.

And we've been beside the guy who thinks every red light is another opportunity for them to grab the holeshot and be first to the next red light.

The question I ask myself every time: Where is the enforcement?

In Vancouver, when police decide to enforce traffic laws, it's a major event, generally accompanied by a news conference or a press release and confetti. We have "enforcement campaigns." But I can't recall the last time I saw a driver pulled over spontaneously because they did something stupid or dangerous.

And one year after the much-celebrated hand-held cellphone ban went into effect, seeing a driver beside you on the phone or texting is still a common occurrence. I know police say they're pulling people over and ticketing them for distracted driving. I've just never seen it.

I don't need another awareness campaign. This is not a case of drivers being unaware of their responsibilities or the rules of the road. They are, after all, the only mode of transportation of the three that requires a test of skill and a licence.

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This is about entitlement and selfishness and disregard for the safety of others.

The city's new campaign urges pedestrians, cyclists and motorists to "practise courtesy" and "follow the rules of the road" because "the responsibility for safer streets belongs to everyone."

So yes, jaywalkers, please stop jaywalking.

Cyclists, stop at stop signs, don't ride the wrong way down one-way streets, and please stay off the sidewalks.

Motorists, please stop driving like idiots.

And police, please surprise me, and pull that guy over.

Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.

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