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Editorial: Driving too fast, too often on N.L. roads

An RNC officer checks th speed of a passing truck on the TCH.
An RNC officer checks th speed of a passing truck on the TCH.

Nothing seems as out of place in this province as a vehicle with out-of-province plates, clearly tourists, travelling at the posted speed limit while scores of cars stream past them. You can imagine the discussion in the car: “Honey, everyone’s passing you. Are you sure the speed limit’s 100 km/h?”

This is not to make light of a serious issue: there have been a slew of catastrophic highway accidents in the last few weeks, many of them on 100 km/h arterial roads.

One of the biggest problems? Speed limits, put in place to outline the top legal speed in perfect road conditions, seem to be viewed as conservative suggestions by many of our drivers.

Chances are, the speed of at least one of the drivers in many accidents in this province has to do with driving too fast, either too fast for road conditions, or just too fast in general.

Roads like the Veteran’s Memorial Highway, from the Trans-Canada Highway to Carbonear, are clearly dangerous, not only because of the absence of dedicated passing lanes, but because of the behaviour of drivers.

Anyone who uses the route regularly can tell you not only about terrible accidents they are aware of, but about the legion of close calls they’ve seen during regular driving. There are plenty of reasons: there are drivers travelling the route at absurdly high speeds in the 150 km/h range, but also drivers using the same route as an easy community-to-community short hop, bottlenecking the road while tootling along at 70 km/h, building long lineups and increasing frustration behind them. There’s a real ignorance of road conditions, with drivers travelling at the road’s top speed limit even in adverse weather, and a real lack of situational awareness about other drivers sharing the road.

The constant in all of those cases? One thing — bad driving habits.

How dangerous is it? Well, when you consciously change plans and don’t travel the road because of something as simple as rain, there’s an issue.

But what do you do if police resources are stretched too thin for full and thorough highway enforcement, and drivers clearly and knowingly exploit that fact?

Do we reach a point where the provincial government has to bring in photo-radar to start catching not the average speeder, but those travelling at clearly dangerous rates of speed?

Will massive fines get peoples’ attention when even horrible accidents fail to? Do we have to go even further, so that if you’re convicted of travelling 40 or more kilometres over the speed limit, you lose your license for a period of time to let you ponder the consequences?

Public awareness campaigns, occasional and well-publicized ticketing campaigns and editorial tut-tutting don’t seem to be doing a single thing to make the roads safer.

We’ve tried the carrot, and it’s failed to have an effect.

What kind of stick do we need to use?

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