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  • By Jordan W. Charness

    Sometimes, we think that the United States of America and Canada are not terribly different, but driving down the road in America can show surprising differences in outlook and emphasis, as Peter and his family found out on a road trip to our great neighbour to the south.

    “Are we in BOOOOKLAI OOP Maryland?” Peter’s six-year-old daughter was just learning how to read and was regaling the family with her newfound understanding of street signs. Her limited knowledge of reading and the fact that the signs were zipping by at over 100 km/h lead to some pretty interesting signpost interpretations. “BOOOOKLAI OOP” really had the family confused until they came upon the sign once again and realized that what it really said was, “Buckle Up Maryland”.

    In Maryland, just like in all the provinces of Canada, wearing a seatbelt is mandatory in cars put in motion. In most of our provinces, seat belt use is required in both front and back seats while in some U.S. states it’s only required in the front seats.

    Another sign that confused their little daughter was the one that warned that aggressive driving would be prosecuted. There was even a dedicated telephone number that could be used free of charge to report aggressive drivers. I don’t know if this meant that there were also special highway patrolman dedicated to chasing down and arresting people who drove with their middle finger extended but some states do have specific laws against aggressive driving. They also expect the public to assist by keeping their eyes open.

    While on the topic of keeping your eyes open, there were several electronic signs warning people to be on the lookout for terrorists. The signs do not define exactly what a terrorist looks like, but the entire nation is invited to report suspicious activities and suspicious objects to the authorities. Once again a dedicated cell phone number is often available.

    “Whats an EZZZ pass?” the six-year-old wanted to know. This led to a discussion about toll roads and the fact that many American states charge you to use their highways. This is still a rarity in Canada but more and more provincial governments are looking into them as a way of funding the building of new roads without adding to our tax burden.

    More difficult to explain to the six-year-old was that EZ pass was pronounced Easy pass in keeping with the American pronunciation of the letter Z (Zed) which they pronounce as Zeee. The EZ pass itself is an electronic box which is stuck on your windshield allowing the tolls to be collected automatically every time you pass under an EZ pass reader. The cost of the tolls is then deducted from your registered credit card.

    Another neat sign they have on some American roads is one that advises you to turn to a dedicated AM station whenever the lights on the sign are flashing. Tuning in this station you get a voice that sounds like it is broadcasting from Mars, complete with static, hisses and pops. Buried in all the background noise is a traffic advisory telling you that the traffic jam that you are stuck in will stretch for miles and that you should have chosen an alternative route back in Albuquerque.

    They also advise you that there was a telephone number that you could have called before setting out on your trip so you could be advised of the current status of the road. I doubt that even in America anyone is that organized but there is new technology where you can get real-time traffic reports on your GPS or even on your cell phone.

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