Speed claptrap

Ken Simmons
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Within the past couple of weeks, both an editorialist and a columnist in this very paper have taken the rash of road accidents as proof we drive too fast. They have suggested - nay, asserted outright - that reducing our highway velocity to at or below (!) the posted highway limits will have such a calming effect as to render our thoroughfares as benign as a woodland path.
For them, I have three simple words: WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.

Now, these otherwise brilliant and measured scribes fail to cite any evidence to support their assertions. On what, we are forced to ask, can they have based their fervent beliefs save their own doddling experience? Trembling at the wheel, heart stopping ever so briefly at the approach of every Fort Mac-funded, over-lifted supertruck with a head of steam.

Are we going to take these pronouncements at face value? Certainly not! We have the facts on our side.

Those facts are, however, grisly. A collection of lives lost or forever altered, and of that we cannot make light. Still, the reports are clear, and warrant study.

RCMP statistics list 89 fatal vehicle accidents from 2010 to June 26 this year. Those accidents killed 97 people and injured an unreported number of others, in cars and trucks, on bikes, ATVs and snowmobiles.

That is too many by any estimation. Yet, RCMP accident investigators cite speed as a factor in just 17 of those accidents. And even then, there were other circumstances involved in almost all. Several of those driving at extreme speed were impaired. A few were driving in adverse conditions, in heavy rain or on snow.

The bulk of these accidents occurred away from the Trans-Canada Highway, where one could argue speeding is most extreme, and consistant. Think Outer Ring Road. The numbers are lowest on the TCH, and almost nominal on divided highway sections.

This is not about advocating for excess speed, and you can be quite sure the RCMP would not be too keen on having its numbers used to make that sort of call. Of course speed will be an issue in an accident; you will do more damage at 30 kilometres per hour than you will at 3.

But making speed the bogeyman of everyday driving is ignoring the real problems we have on the roads. It is easy to point to, and obvious to anyone sharing the same strip of blacktop, but more tickets will not ease the dangers.

To their credit, RCMP accident investigators suggest the real safety issues are inside the car. Too many drivers continue to drink before getting behind the wheel. Too many passengers refuse to wear a seatbelt. (Forty per cent of those killed on the roads in 2012 were not wearing belts.) Too many people are worried about their phone, or the radio, or the coffee they just spilled in their lap.

On a clear day, on dry pavement, in a good car on good tires, I am no more danger to you at 110 km/h than the signpost on the shoulder. I'm strapped in, I'm sober, and I'm doing everything I can to protect everyone around me, inside the car and out.

When that stops being the case, then we have a problem. At any speed.

Ken Simmons, The Telegram's new media editor, breathes exhaust and exhales clean, fresh air. Twitter @Ken_Simmons_NL/Tumblr


Organizations: RCMP, Trans-Canada Highway, The Telegram

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