Down Camp­bell Road

The tragedy of not wear­ing a seat­belt on a P.E.I. dirt road

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­ — Twit­ter: @Wanger­sky.

It’s red clay, like many smaller Prince Ed­ward Is­land sideroads, and straight as an ar­row — the Camp­bell Road, out­side Mon­tague.

Nine years af­ter the fact, it’s hard to imag­ine a fa­tal au­to­mo­bile accident there. But there was one, a 16-year-old girl thrown from a ve­hi­cle and fa­tally in­jured, the sec­ond teenager from the same high school killed in au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dents in less than a year.

Nei­ther girl had been wear­ing a seat­belt.

Why talk about this accident now? (I’m de­lib­er­ately not nam­ing the vic­tim on Camp­bell Road. I’m not nam­ing any of the vic­tims I’m go­ing to be writ­ing about here.)

I’m talk­ing about it be­cause of the re­mark­able frank­ness of one of the po­lice of­fi­cers con­nected to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the crime.

“To my mind, sin­gle-ve­hi­cle accident, no­body should be killed,” Cpl. Ge­orge Cum­ming of Kings Dis­trict RCMP told the CBC at the time. “Sin­gle-ve­hi­cle rollover accident, no­body should be killed. … It’s very frus­trat­ing when you’re look­ing at young lives that are lost, and be­cause of a sim­ple thing like not wear­ing a seat­belt.”

It’s some­thing that emer­gency re­spon­ders deal with reg­u­larly, even now, though the po­lice of­ten — per­haps un­in­ten­tion­ally, per­haps be­cause they are ad­dicted to po­lice jar­gon — don’t fully ex­plain. It’s a lot like sui­cide: if a per­son dies and “no foul play is sus­pected,” then it’s quite pos­si­ble the death could have been a sui­cide.

Like­wise, if a po­lice of­fi­cer tells you a vic­tim was “ejected from the ve­hi­cle,” chances are, they weren’t wear­ing a seat­belt. In the last few months, there have been a num­ber of ac­ci­dents with “ejec­tions” in and around St. John’s — the toll of in­juries has been bru­tal.

Seat­belt buck­les may fail, and some­times, peo­ple do end up out­side ve­hi­cles de­spite wear­ing a seat­belt.

But the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who are thrown from ve­hi­cles are not wear­ing seat­belts — and many of them are teens or young adults.

“Of the teens (aged 13-20 years) that died in crashes in 2012, ap­prox­i­mately 55 per cent of them were not wear­ing a seat­belt at the time of the crash,” ac­cord­ing to re­search done for the U.S. Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol.

The CDC also points out that the use of seat­belts re­duces se­ri­ous in­juries and deaths by 50 per cent.

Airbags, when you’re al­ready re­strained by seat­belts, re­duce those in­juries even more.

Cars are built to be as safe as they pos­si­bly can be in car ac­ci­dents, but ev­ery one of the pieces — from crum­ple zones to seat­belts to air bags — is de­signed to work to­gether. Leave the belt un­buck­led, and you’ve bro­ken the chain.

I’ve been at plenty of ac­ci­dents where peo­ple in a car wear­ing seat­belts walked away with mi­nor in­juries, while those in the same accident who weren’t wear­ing belts were se­ri­ously in­jured.

The girl who died on the Camp­bell Road had a name that was fairly typ­i­cal of the year she was born.

Run her first and last names to­gether through Google, and you come up with other girls with close to the same name — girls who are now in their 20s, post­ing In­sta­gram pho­tos, set­ting up bridal reg­istries, grad­u­at­ing from univer­sity, hav­ing chil­dren.

Girls who didn’t die on the Camp­bell Road.

Stand­ing on the red clay road, it’s some­thing you can’t eas­ily forget.


The Camp­bell Road, near Mon­tague, P.E.I., in this July 2015 file photo.

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