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Letter: Highway anarchy

A screenshot of a video Michael Newhook posted on Facebook Monday of a blue pickup passing vehicles on Peacekeeper’s Way, head on into oncoming traffic.
A screenshot of a video Michael Newhook posted on Facebook Monday of a blue pickup passing vehicles on Peacekeeper’s Way, head on into oncoming traffic.

It is impossible not to notice the recent spate of collisions on our highways. What is probably most unusual is the frequency of these fatal accidents and the number of collisions that involve multiple fatalities.  

In recent years, the focus on prevention of highway fatalities has been dedicated to moose mitigation, resulting in significant resources being devoted to this issue. Editorials and open-line programs have been successful in convincing citizens of the province that moose are the primary contributor to highway deaths. In response, government has reacted with a concerted effort to reduce the moose population, with the expectation that fatalities will be decreased. 

In the past five decades or more, moose have consistently represented three to five per cent of yearly deaths. In reality, moose represent minimal risk when we drive, yet appear to garner an inordinate amount of attention. There has been one moose vehicle fatality thus far this year.

The issues requiring the greatest attention are impaired driving, those who show blatant disregard for highway laws, who opt not to wear a seatbelt and yes, distracted driving. While emerging vehicle technologies will likely someday eliminate or reduce many forms of distracted driving and possibly impaired driving, these advances are still a ways off. 

When we drive, we have control of how we drive. It is within our power to adjust as we are presented with situations that are less than ideal. Unfortunately, we have little control over the person who chooses to drive while impaired, is distracted because they are texting or blatantly ignores the rules of the road and road conditions.

Frequently it is reported in the media that an accident was caused by weather. While rain or snow may have been a contributing factor in a collision, human error is to blame for practically every accident. If weather is the cause of so many accidents, then why do so many occur on the finest summer days?  

Aside from driving habits, notice the number of vehicles equipped with tail lamp, licence plate and even headlamp covers, reducing the output of the lamps. Notice the vehicles with front windows so blackened with tint that it is impossible to make eye contact with the operator at an intersection or crosswalk. Notice the pickup trucks so elevated, that in the event of a passenger vehicle collision, the Transport Canada manufacturing standards for frontal, rear and side intrusion would be rendered completely ineffective.

Driving the TCH, it is noticeable in recent years that police presence appears diminished, yet the majority of fatalities occur under RCMP jurisdiction. It is time to address this issue, which is likely contributing to the abhorrent actions of some drivers. The RCMP appears to be significantly under-resourced to effectively provide the service that is required.

The minister of Justice and Public Safety has recently announced a consultation with the RNC and RCMP concerning the number of fatal collisions, and recently, amendments to the Highway Traffic Act were introduced, aimed at impaired driving infractions.  

While these measures are good initiatives, the consultation process should involve a more in-depth review of the driver licensing process, including driver education and examination, defensive driving and penalties associated with driving infractions. There should be focus on deterrence and enforcement.

The consultation should be coupled with the review of the insurance system and not only aimed at the exorbitant rates to insure a vehicle, but also at the alarming number of people who operate without a policy, while the rest of us are forced to pay for them. We should explore seizing and forfeiting to the Crown for auction, the repeat offenders’ vehicles that are uninsured and the people who are found to be operating with enormous outstanding fines that are never collected. 

It is time for action to address the reckless behaviour that has crept in to people’s driving habits or these preventable fatalities will continue. Calling the media or hotline to report a moose in St. Anthony will not correct the behaviour of drivers who put us at risk every time we venture onto the highway. You can be sure that many of those calls or texts are being made by the person behind the wheel.  


Robert Murray

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