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EDITORIAL: Blink of an eye

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Sometimes, it can be the smallest of things.

We hear a lot about distracted drivers and cellphones, about texts that turn fatal and moments where eyes taken off the road have tragic consequences.

But it’s worth remembering that, while technology regularly has a part to play in driver distraction, it’s far from the only thing.

In a recent judgment in a Saskatchewan court, the difference between a conviction for operating a vehicle in a manner dangerous to the public and causing the death of a motorcyclist came down to where the driver had put a balloon.

The smallest of decisions can be momentous.

The accident involved a full-sized SUV and a motorcycle: the SUV stopped at an intersection, and the driver said she stopped for at least five seconds, looking both ways before entering the intersection without seeing two motorcycles. When paramedics arrived, after establishing that one of the motorcycle driver had been killed, one of the paramedics went to sit in the front passenger seat of the SUV to do paperwork, because it had started raining.

...while technology regularly has a part to play in driver distraction, it’s far from the only thing.

As the judge wrote, “When he opened the front passenger door of the SUV to enter and do his paperwork, he also noted a brightly coloured helium balloon located inside the front passenger compartment. He recalled that it was so large that he could not get into the front passenger seat without moving it.”

The location of the balloon became an issue in the trial: at least three witnesses at the trial were questioned about the balloon and its location: the judge quotes the driver as saying, “she was travelling from the Kenaston, Saskatchewan area to Nokomis, Saskatchewan to visit her mother at a care facility. She was accompanied by her infant son and was planning to advise her mother that she was once again pregnant. With her in the vehicle were gifts as well as flowers, a card and a balloon for her uncle. She described the balloon as round and silver in colour with Happy Father’s Day printed on it. The balloon was filled with helium and attached to a weight by a string.” Tragic all around.

But where was the balloon at the time of the accident? Placing it in the front seat would have meant the driver couldn’t have seen the approaching motorcyclists.

The driver of the SUV said the balloon had been in the back seat, but that she had moved it after the accident: “She explained that it was very windy that day and when she got into the vehicle to check on her son, she placed the balloon in the front seat so that it would not blow around and wake him.” She was acquitted.

The difference between happenstance and negligence?

As little as a balloon.

The message?

Driving is a full-time job. Take it seriously.


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