There are many definitions of courtesy.


  1. Excellence of manners, respectful, or considerate act or expression
  2. A courteous, respectful, or considerate act or expression
  3. Indulgence, consent, or acquiescence: ‘a “colonel” by courtesy rather than by right.’
  4. Favour, help or generosity: ‘The costumes for the play were by courtesy of the local department store’


  1. Done or performed as a matter of courtesy or protocol: ‘a courtesy call on the mayor’
  2. Offered or provided free by courtesy of the management: ‘while waiting to board the airplane, we were provided with courtesy coffee’

Last summer, our family was heading out for our camping vacation; canoe on top of the vehicle when one of the straps broke loose! I pulled over as far as I could onto the side of the highway; a divided highway – two lanes in each direction. The posted speed limit was 120 k/hr on this stretch of our BC highway. With hazard light blinking, my husband and I carefully got out of the car to see what needed to be done. The traffic was quite light this Saturday morning, yet we were carefully watching as cars approached. Good I thought – only a few cars and they will pull over to the inside (left travel) lane. Well, I was incorrect. The cars came; they didn’t slow down and they didn’t pull to the inside lane. I could hardly believe it. If I wasn’t experiencing it, I would have difficulty understanding someone explaining this to me.

We all know it is the law to pull to the left or inside lane if possible and slow down when approaching an emergency vehicle, police car, fire, tow truck. It is not the law apparently to have common sense and be cautious or courteous to a fellow traveler attempting to fix a strap in order to travel safely. Our other family members, pulling the trailer, were ahead of us, had seen us pull over and had also then pulled safely over to the side of the road. They too witnessed this situation.

As we began our journey once again, I witnessed time and time again, a car with hazard lights flashing and the approaching cars making no attempt to slow down or pull over. I reflected a few times that week: what has happened to our common sense or common courtesy? Are people in such a hurry, they can’t slow down or pull to the inside lane on a multi-lane highway?

Do we have to consider making everything a law? And if so, who is going to apply that? We know the example of texting or using a cell phone while driving, while it didn’t make sense, had to become illegal to prevent the unsafe behaviour. Yet every day you see it: people hoping to not get caught. People who know that distractive driving has killed or injured thousands of people.

Is there something we can do to inform people to be a little more respectful to others? Imagine if they had to get out on that same highway – cars whizzing by at 120+ km per hour with the wind and dust they create. How that random act of not slowing down or pulling over could change their lives and the other families’ lives forever. The same as our emergency services ask – the same as the tow truck or service vehicle drivers ask. Respect and courtesy.

Dealing with particular situations – Workers on the road

Other types of workers and vehicles may also be present on the road and pose a hazard, such as roadside assistance and disable vehicles, surveyors, road maintenance or utility workers. Always slow down and pass with caution to prevent a collision. If safe to do so, move over a lane to increase the space between your vehicle and the hazard.

From the Ontario Driver’s Handbook,

I didn’t spend time on my camping vacation to be upset or get angry, but I did find myself reflecting a few times on this apparent disregard to common sense or common courtesy.

At the same time, I have experienced several wonderful examples of courtesy – a door being held open for me to pass through, people saying thank you, that eye contact or smile that you can offer to someone, the moment you can just stand there and listen to someone or be listened to. Our family members demonstrate that kind of deep courtesy to one another all the time. Let’s hope courtesy is not a lost art and will continue to be there for generations to come.

Shirley Hickman