KAMLOOPS — Two years ago on a sunny early afternoon in June while driving to Vancouver, my family and I witnessed something that has yet to be surpassed in absurdity and, I've got to say, horror. Passing a lady riding her motorbike up the hill past Merritt, we noticed that she was texting while driving. Distracted driving taken to a whole new level. Talk about a teachable moment for the boys and a new level of awareness for us adults.
How many people do that? How many people do I drive by who, unbeknownst to me and many others, are either distracted by their phones, are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or tired enough to fall asleep, even for a second, which is often a long enough second to change lives forever and for the worse? How many times was I, my loved ones, or you and your loved ones close enough but lucky enough to still be here today…
Stats provide numbers to answer my questions. Many times. Car and motorcycle crashes in British Columbia have increased in the last three years. According to ICBC stats, the number of crashes in BC in 2016 totalled 320,000. Which translates into an average of 875 collisions a day. Some are mild enough for the drivers and passengers to walk away and thank their lucky stars, while others result in tragedy.
There are 1.2 fatalities (to a total of 430 deaths per year,) and 18 hospitalizations per day, according to BC Injury and Prevention Unit. Impaired (alcohol, drugs, and extreme fatigue) and distracted driving (cell phone use) are the leading causes behind most of the crashes. Then comes speed.
I wrote before about speed and its ill consequences. I have been told by many that in Europe they have many highways without any speed limits, which leads to fewer crashes due to better flowing traffic and better driving. It’s an argument that could go on for a while I suppose. Regardless of what other countries’ rules are, in Canada we do have speed limits and they need to be heeded, or else risk a speedy mayhem of some kind. Should the day come when we’ll have some ‘no speed limit’ corridors, we will hopefully be wiser and better equipped to drive safely.
Until then, there are a few things that need attention in order to help everyone on the road get to where they are going safely. Laws that are reinforced constantly and tough punishments for those who violate them, given that they do not just put their lives in danger but many others’. Periodic drug and alcohol roadside screening checks as well as increased patrols to prevent distracted driving, province-wide (and further) education that puts the insanity of using cell phones while driving into perspective, installing traffic cameras especially in high risk collision areas, the list could go on.
We need to be good sports and model good behaviour for children when driving is concerned. If so many things that life throws our way are unpredictable, safe driving makes for one heck of a good chance of not dying sooner than we should, or becoming incapacitated in any way. Most motor vehicle crash victims in BC are between 20 and 24 years old.
The thing is, all of this works better if we all do it. Well-intended individuals can be affected by someone’s careless, impaired, or distracted driving and, truth is, no consequence seems fitting for a life lost or affected irreversibly by an accident.
Beside the fact that it could be any one of us, there is yet another piece to this. It could happen whether you are in a car, on a bike, or simply walking like Jennifer Gatey did last November when she was struck and left to die on the side of the road.
The stories and tears that the victims’ families and friends carry in their hearts forever are heartbreaking. They make temporary news and make many of us more mindful, at least for a while. The reality is, according to all the stats above, we have yet to come closer to making the streets and highways safer. We are more rushed, we sleep less, and there are those who try their luck with driving under the influence or checking the cell phone while behind the wheel.
It takes one second for things to change forever. When you think of the millions of seconds we spend on the road every year, that means millions of chances to make it out alive every time. It is worth taking another look at our ways and putting a better foot forward.