• Carmen Marie Fabio

Road code


Though I wasn’t speeding as I drove along Route 338 last weekend, I was on the receiving end, from the driver of a pickup truck, of one of the unspoken highway codes shared amongst motorists internationally - the flashed high beam indicating a police speed radar operation up ahead. I spend a lot of time on the road and the gesture got me thinking about the myriad ways we communicate with each other when language is removed from the equation, not including, of course, inappropriate digits.

We all understand ‘the wave’ thanking those courteous enough to let us merge. There’s the shining white light from the back of the 18-wheeler cab that some truckers will flash momentarily when you’ve allowed them the space to change lanes on the highway. And the smile that works in both official languages when coming to a stop at a crosswalk to allow pedestrians to cross, a concept still somewhat steeped in mystery for those of us who obtained our street smarts, both driving and walking, on the Island of Montreal. I’ve yet to figure out the appropriate charade for, “You’ve left your coffee mug on the roof of your car!” once on my morning commute when it was far too early to be honking but can confirm the combination of flashing lights while frantically pointing upwards didn’t work. The travel mug on the vehicle ahead of me hung on valiantly until a combination downhill chicane on Boulevard Perrot ended in its spectacular demise, the driver none the wiser.

I was recently at a stop sign when a group of daycare children, all holding onto a rope while out for a walk with their caregiver, held up their hands firmly in the classic ‘stop’ gesture as they traversed the crosswalk in front of me. Once safely across the street, their stern glances turned to smiles as they proceeded to wave at me while calling out, “Merci!”

Given that capturing photographic images occupies a large part of my time and attention for the newspaper every week, I asked for – and received – a dashboard mounted camera last Christmas with the idea that I would land incredible footage of events on the road or, at the very least, would have a visual record in the event of a vehicular mishap.

And since I’ve installed it, a funny thing has happened – I find I’ve become a calmer, more courteous, and more careful driver knowing my behaviour is being documented. I like to think that even my singing has improved as I haven’t yet figured out how to disable the sound recording option and harbour an irrational fear that any video evidence I have will be accompanied by a really laughable soundtrack.

I haven’t yet captured any explosions, hit and runs, or carjackings but I’ve had the privilege of recording some touching ways humans are capable of interacting when we can’t actually speak to each other. From the construction worker who removed his hat and gave me a big bow as I waved when he directed me through roadwork to the trucker who blew me a kiss after I reversed at a stop sign, allowing him more room to make his left hand turn at a T-intersection.

For the most part, we’re all cloaked in a glass and metal shield of anonymity as we daily make our way from point A to point B. The little things like the smiles, waves, and nods lower the shield just enough to keep a degree of humanity on our shared road.