2014 - Looking Back With Concern

New Year ImagePinned to the top of the home page of the DriveSmartBC web site is a collision counter. Each day it ticks upward showing an estimate of the collision results to date on BC's highways. The numbers shown are calculated using the most recent averages from ICBC and the BC Injury Prevention Unit. The number of reported crashes amount to 8.8% of the total number of road vehicles registered in the province.

2014 saw an estimated 330 fatal collisions with alcohol being a factor in 102 of them.

There were approximately 50,860 injury crashes with alcohol being involved in 5747 of them. 6552 of that total resulted in injury severe enough to require a hospital stay.

259,288 is the estimate of crashes reported to ICBC from among the 2,952,114 vehicles Statistics Canada reports as being registered in British Columbia in 2013. It might be frightening to find out how many vehicles were actually involved in a crash if there was a way to determine how many were not reported for various reasons.

Note to self: resolve to drive defensively in 2015. While I'm at it, resolve to be a safe and courteous driver as well. It might be the only way to get though the coming year without a scratch. Sadly, I understand that we will all be paying more for insurance. I think I can see why.


Should we not be looking forward, with optimism?

When you look at the raw numbers, they do seem worrying; a problem to be solved.

But let's stop for a moment, and look at things another way.  How do the 2014 statistics compare to the 2013 statistics?  What is the trend?  Is driving in BC actually becoming more dangerous, or less?

And are the authorities doing all that they effectively can, to reduce the number of collisions, the injuries, the deaths?  The fact is, there must be some improvement going on - the cars are safer, much more protective of the occupants, the brakes and steering and ABS/Stability systems, the tires ... the modern car is a veritable cocoon compared to those we grew up on.

And the drinking/driving deaths must be on the decline - ICBC, the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, the Minister of Justice, they all insist that the measures they have taken in recent years have been effective, and reduced the carnage.  So it must be true.

Having been a driver in BC for more than 43 years now, I'll offer my own subjective perspective for consideration, make of it what you will, but this is how I see things as they are now, compared to, say 1975 ~ 1985.  And how they might be improved even more, for all of us.

Two things stand out in my mind as significant achievements, for which the BC authorities - the cops in particular, as the front line troops - should be commended and recognized.  A positive, and a negative.  What are they?

  • Seatbelt use.  Thirty or forty years ago, it wasn't so common.  Lots of drivers - including intelligent, sincere, safety-minded individuals - were not in the habit of wearing seatbelts as a constant habit.  This has changed, utterly and almost completely.  Look around you, next time you're stopped in traffic waiting for the light to change; you might see drivers and passengers texting and chatting and doing whatever the heck they're doing, but just try to find one of them who isn't wearing a seatbelt!  It's remarkable.  It's world-class.  And being as there isn't any record of a fatality by a driver travelling under 80km/h who was wearing a seatbelt, it's one hell of an an achievement.  So just for a minute, let's quit the nagging and the numbers and the preaching, and recognize that - collectively - we are a safer, better society, so far as this is concerned.  And you can have all the laws you like, but basically it's hats off to the cops.  Well done, you all should be proud.
  • Impaired driving.  Thirty or forty years ago, it was so common.  Lots of drivers were in the habit of driving while impaired.  I spent many years (and about a half-million miles) when I was younger, driving taxis on graveyard shift for various companies in both BC and Manitoba; that experience certainly taught me to take a defensive approach to driving!  But yet again, the combined efforts of the authorities, particularly the cops on the front line, changed society.  Not completely - there are still drivers out there who are over the limit, just as there are drivers out there who aren't wearing their seatbelts - but it's substantially changed over the years.  The sense of responsibility - or consequence - and likelihood of being caught has also changed tremendously.  Once again, it's hats off to the cops.  Well done, you all should be proud.

So, where do we go from here?  Because clearly, according to the numbers above, we still have a major problem.  And we need to recognize that in fact, the majority of collisions (and consequent injuries, and deaths) these days are caused by drivers who are wearing their seatbelts and who are not impaired by alcohol.  Think about that for a moment, OK?

'Road Rage' is cited as a major factor in collisions these days, (along with cell phone use of course, but that's just another form of impairment).  And what are the most common triggers, according to statistics?

  • Following too close.  (That's illegal, by the way.)
  • Failure to signal.  (That's illegal, by the way.)
  • Failure to give right-of-way.  (That's illegal, by the way.)
  • Blocking the 'fast' lane on the highway.  (That's illegal, by the way.)

So what are we - or more importantly, the cops - doing about it?  Very little, in my opinion.  Our site host may insist that when he was a police officer, he ticketed drivers for this, that, and the other, but I can tell you that in all my years behind the wheel I have never seen a driver being pulled over and ticketed for any of these dangerous, anti-social, road-rage causing, illegal behaviours.  Seen lots of radar traps, though!  

So, what needs to change, what do we need to do as a society to effectively ensure a downward trend in the crash stats?

Well firstly, we need to incentivize the necessary authorities; that would be ICBC and the Police.  So instead of directing all the zillions of dollars from traffic tickets into general government revenue, a substantial portion (how about half, split between ICBC and Police Forces, both of which clearly need the income?) should be fed back to these authorities.  And don't tell me that ICBC don't need the money, because the BCUC just allowed them to jack my insurance rates and yours - and don't tell me the cops don't need the money, because they're always trying desperately to balance their books too.

And secondly, we need to remind these authorities that the system already in place for decades - that of applying demerit points, with consequent fines and potential license prohibition, to individual drivers - is democratic, and effective, in terms of changing driver behaviours and removing the most dangerous offenders.  But the way things are these days, there is no direct motivation for ICBC or the Police to get together and start tackling all these other issues.  And that's why you see drivers who don't signal, and who follow too close, and who block the fast lane, and who cut off other drivers, every single time they get behind the wheel.  Why wouldn't they?  Nobody is doing anything about it, and they don't perceive any personal risk, either directly (a crash) or a consequence (a fine, or loss of license).

Thirdly, we need to see some facts.  Some real statistics, which could prove me wrong, but I seriously doubt it.

Let's see the numbers.  The tickets that the cops are handing out, and the illegal behaviours that they're actually addressing.  RCMP, Vancouver Police, whomever - they're all paid for by our tax dollars, and they are all answerable to the rest of society.

And if they're not willing to show that they're doing something useful with themselves, in terms of tackling the issues, then maybe some member of the press should make a request under the Freedom of Information Act.  

Because there are still too many crashes, too many injuries, too many deaths.  And they can't go on forever trying to blame these on impaired drivers, or those who don't wear their seatbelts, because these have been dealt with as effectively as can be.



Driver competence

I take the bus to work.

The bus driver wears a seatbelt, no-one else even has one, yet we're not concerned.
On the 555 bus people are sometimes standing at freeway speeds from Carvolth Exchange to Braid Station.

How can this be allowed?

Easy -- the driver of the bus is trained and tested to a higher standard than a private class 5 driver.

Another point:
Recently there was a total mess on Highway 99 due to drivers being improperly equipped and inadequately trained to drive in poor visibility on slippery roads.

Why do we not ensure that drivers are competent?
If all drivers are trained and tested, and shown to be competent, our roads would be safer, our insurance rates would be down and the carnage would all but disappear.

The penalty for a competence-based infraction would simply be retraining at the drivers expense.

There will always be those who drive without licenses, following suspensions or prohibitions.  But they would be few in number and easy to spot.

Thanks for letting me sound off.

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