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A lot has changed on the roads, and people's mindsets have too

The landscape out on the road has changed.
The landscape out on the road has changed. - Garry Sowerby

I drive a lot but I walk a lot, too. In fact, I’ve been power-walking or jogging on a semi-daily basis for about 50 years.

Of course that’s plenty of hours logged out there on the hoof and I see a lot during each 40 minutes of mobile solitude. Parks and trails are fine but I like to walk the streets as well to check out homes, people and, of course, the traffic.

When in Halifax, the last stretch of my power walk along Quinpool Road, between Robie Street and Connaught Avenue, is where I usually play my car-counting game. 

It’s a point system that gauges the number of European or Asian automobile brands on the streets compared to North American products from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. 

Fifteen years ago it was a toss up between the two categories. The landscape, however, has changed. 

These days, during the eight blocks of Quinpool, the European and Asian marques win by a margin ranging from 100 to 200 vehicles, depending on what time of day I hit the pavement.

A lot is changing out there as vehicles get more complex and people are less interested in them beyond their ability to keep drivers connected and get them safely from point A to Point B. Brand loyalty, what’s that? 

Most people drive in an insular world with the windows up and the air conditioning, standard equipment on most vehicles these days, on. So long arm out the window.

Electric vehicle charging stations are popping up more and more as the swing from fossil- fueled to electrically-powered vehicles ramps up. 

With the increase in the number of EVs, our streets will become more quiet as the sound of V8 engines and modified exhaust systems are fast losing their “cool” appeal.

On the other hand, on my walks I’ve noticed horn blowing seems to be on the rise. Last week on a 45-minute walk, I heard no less than six incidents of impatient long blasts. 

Is it the stress of the 21st century or is it people moving here from larger cities and bringing their big city habits with them?

Many things have disappeared on the vehicular landscape. Sedans are on the wane in favour of crossover utility vehicles.

Chrome has been on the way out for years and most new drivers probably don’t know what a vinyl roof is. The car key has morphed into a fob with probably as much computing power as an early earth orbiter.

There is no more static on the radio because drivers are usually listening to satellite radio. Personal music has evolved from the cumbersome 8-track to cassette to CD. Now one simply connects one’s smartphone to the vehicle and all the music imaginable is available.

The aerodynamics of new vehicles, critical in the fuel economy game, make driving with windows down at highway speed almost unbearable for the ears. 

As a result, most people drive in an insular world with the windows up and the air conditioning, standard equipment on most vehicles these days, on. So long arm out the window.

Fuel caps are disappearing even though they’ve been tethered to vehicles for years. With most filling stations offering only self-serve who wants to handle a smelly fuel cap? 

The Cadillac XT5 has a camera option incorporated into the traditional rearview mirror. - Garry Sowerby
The Cadillac XT5 has a camera option incorporated into the traditional rearview mirror. - Garry Sowerby

Rearview mirrors are still around but are quickly being replaced by back-up cameras. Some new vehicles, like the Cadillac XT5 I’m driving this week, have a camera option incorporated into the traditional rearview mirror. It took a bit of getting used to but the unobstructed rear view is an obvious advantage in terms of safety and keeping the driver in tune with what is behind him or her.

The lack of bench seats in all but some full-sized pick-up trucks may have reduced the snuggle-fest of young love on the highway, but that distraction has been replaced by the need for drivers to multi-task.

Distracted driving has always been around but even that has changed. Vehicle operation systems are a major form of distraction and I suggest anyone who purchases a new vehicle spend a day in the driveway learning how to operate them.

Don’t forget navigation systems that enable drivers to get anywhere without actually knowing where they are. Gone are visual references to be memorized as way points. 

Gone is the ability, or desire, for drivers to use a real paper map to get an overview of where they are and where they are going.

As roads become more congested and complex, improvements in vehicle design coupled with a positive mindset of the motoring public are key to keeping traffic moving safely and smoothly. 

And I’ll keep playing the car-counting game on Quinpool Road, realizing the former Big Three of Detroit will probably never win it again. 

The landscape out on the road has changed, that’s for sure.

Follow Garry on Instagram: @garrysowerby

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