Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Vancouver Sun July  9, 2005)

Playing by the Rush Hour Rules

  By John Martin

Reports that rush hour is heavier and lasts longer came as little surprise to anyone who braves Highway 1 on a daily basis.  But what makes the crawl even more intolerable is watching all the commuter lane violators whizzing by.  Typically, every fourth or fifth car contains a lone occupant. 

There’s no shortage of superlatives to describe these people.  But perhaps it’s the rest of us whose behavior requires some explanation.  After all, the cheaters are acting quite rational.

They’re getting to work in a punctual manner.  Having motored along quite smoothly, they’re not angry and flustered like the rest of us so they’re more productive on the job.  They’re not wasting fuel they can barely afford.  And there’s virtually no enforcement so it would seem they’re merely acting in their own self interest.  Sounds logical.

The only mystery here is why more of us don’t jump the queue.

Given the lack of enforcement it certainly can’t have anything to do with deterrence or fear of punishment.  Even on that rarest of occasions where someone is being ticketed, that means the coast is clear the rest of the way.  You’re more likely to encounter Godzilla stomping Toyotas and swatting power lines at the Willingdon exit than you are another cop checking for violators in the same day.

And if you have a guilty conscience, you can always console yourself knowing at least you didn’t idle in traffic for fifty minutes and help create the poor air quality the Fraser Valley must endure on a daily basis.

So what’s stopping everyone else from cheating?  Why are we so compliant?

Maybe it’s a Canadian thing – we’re polite and used to doing what we’re told.  Or maybe we’ve just been conditioned to accept the misery associated with gridlock.

More likely, it has something to do with social control and self regulation.

The law itself and the prescribed sanctions for violating it are rarely sufficient to shape behavior.  Rather, our bond to the community and respect for social order are much more effective and persuasive reasons to obey the law.

The law is working as it should when people choose to play by the rules, even when there’s no fear of getting caught and deviating is clearly in their best interest.

The fact that most everybody acknowledges the commuter lane regulations is encouraging.  It’s evidence of a civil and respectful citizenry.

The alternative would be a warning sign that something is terribly wrong.

Besides, if there were a dozen highway patrol cars pulling over violators every rush hour, we’d be screaming that the police should deal with more important things.

Hurry up and wait is an enduring regularity of rush hour.  Watching the grinning rule-breakers get away with cheating is another.

Then again, there’s always public transit and ride sharing.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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