Need for Speed

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Front Page - TINA COMEAU

The toll speed­ing takes on first re­spon­ders and more.

This is the third part of a three-part se­ries look­ing at speed­ing and dis­tracted driv­ing on At­lantic Canada’s high­ways. See last week’s edi­tion for the pre­vi­ous part or visit our web­site to see the en­tire se­ries.

Ev­ery day, peo­ple make de­ci­sions. Many choose to push harder on the gas pedal, watch­ing as the nee­dle on the speedome­ter rises. Or they click on cruise con­trol, then keep click­ing. Faster. Faster. “Peo­ple make small de­ci­sions, or what seems like small de­ci­sions, to go faster. They get dis­tracted at the wheel and it ends up im­pact­ing the lives of far more peo­ple than you can imag­ine,” says Krista Lane, a com­mu­nity re­la­tions para­medic with Emer­gency Health Ser­vices (EHS). “The two min­utes that you think you’re sav­ing by go­ing faster could mean a life­time of min­utes to some­one that you don’t even know. “I just want peo­ple to re­flect on how dan­ger­ous a weapon that a ve­hi­cle is,” she says. “Of­ten, we don’t re­ally see it that way.” First re­spon­ders see it more of­ten than they want to. And when ex­ces­sive speed leads to mo­tor ve­hi­cle col­li­sions, the im­pact reaches far be­yond the driver’s seat, or the pas­sen­ger seat, or the seats of an on­com­ing ve­hi­cle with in­no­cent pas­sen­gers in­side it. Death and in­jury take a toll on fam­i­lies and friends. It also takes a toll on first re­spon­ders. SLOW DOWN It just isn’t worth it. The words may sound cliché, but RCMP Cpl. Jen­nifer Clarke says it boils down to speed and driv­ing not mix­ing. “I’ve been to many col­li­sions where peo­ple have died. Things can change in the blink of an eye and the ef­fect that has on so many peo­ple, it’s just shock­ing,” she says. “You never re­ally get used to how that af­fects peo­ple, in­clud­ing our­selves.” Yet peo­ple still speed - some­times brazenly so – as ev­i­dent by me­dia re­leases is­sued by the RCMP when stunt­ing charges are laid. In late Novem­ber, a 19-year-old driver in Ch­ester Basin was charged for driv­ing 77 kilo­me­tres over the posted speed limit on High­way 103. A day later, a 20-year-old driver was charged with driv­ing 185 km/h in an 80 km/h zone on High­way 111 in the Hal­i­fax Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity - 105 km above the posted limit. “It’s not shock­ing to me, it’s in­cred­i­bly dis­ap­point­ing,” says Clarke. “These peo­ple are clearly not aware of the po­ten­tial, and they don’t have any re­gard for their own life or any­one else’s.” As a first re­spon­der, Clarke says col­li­sions, in­clud­ing ones where ex­ces­sive speed was a con­tribut­ing or main fac­tor, is not some­thing any­one gets used to. For many first re­spon­ders, these scenes can de­velop into post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD). Asked about ways first re­spon­ders cope, Clarke says, “You seek sup­port and coun­selling. I find, a lot of times, a safe place to talk about these things in the of­fice or with your co­work­ers be­cause no one is go­ing to be upset or of­fended by what you de­scribe. I find it ther­a­peu­tic to be able to talk about stuff that most peo­ple wouldn’t be able to hear about, or would be very upset to hear.” Ev­ery col­li­sion scene is dif­fer­ent, yet many have sim­i­lar un­der­tones – lives ended and lives torn apart. “It’s aw­ful to see it again and again, but it shows how vul­ner­a­ble we are to things like speed and im­paired driv­ing and things like that,” Clarke says. What makes a hor­ri­ble scene more tragic is when chil­dren are in­volved and if peo­ple in other ve­hi­cles have be­come the vic­tims of a bad de­ci­sion made by the driver of an­other ve­hi­cle. “Those ones I find re­ally dif­fi­cult be­cause it’s not a de­ci­sion those peo­ple made, it was some­one else’s choice. And that some­one else of­ten walks away,” she says. “Those are tough.” RE­FLECT­ING “Telling some­one that their favourite per­son has passed away is some­thing you never get used to," says Const. Chad Mor­ri­son of Nova Sco­tia RCMP Traf­fic Ser­vices. "We grieve for the vic­tims and their fam­i­lies." Mor­ri­son has re­sponded to se­ri­ous and fa­tal col­li­sions caused by speed­ing. “It is tragic to see peo­ple suf­fer enor­mous loss and po­lice feel com­pas­sion for the vic­tims and their loved ones,” he says. And it takes a toll on those who job is to help. “As po­lice of­fi­cers, we are sur­rounded by peo­ple who know what we are go­ing through be­cause they have After se­ri­ous and fa­tal col­li­sions, we at­tend de­brief­ings and we are en­cour­aged to get sup­port from the ser­vices avail­able to us, such as our di­vi­sional psy­chol­o­gists, chap­lains, health ser­vices and peer to peer co­or­di­na­tors, who can pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on ser­vices avail­able. “Be­yond that, I think ev­ery­body has their own way of cop­ing. I find that re­turn­ing home and shar­ing about my day with my fam­ily helps me re­lax and process my feel­ings.” If there is a mes­sage Mor­ri­son could de­liver – par­tic­u­larly to an at­ten­tive au­di­ence of speed­ers – it’s this: “I ask driv­ers to con­sider the pos­si­ble con­se­quences of speed­ing. Driv­ers have to live with the con­se­quences of their de­ci­sions and the pain that comes with that can be life-chang­ing. Speed­ing is not a vic­tim­less crime and choos­ing to speed can have a rip­ple ef­fect through many lives.” It’s the same mes­sage pushed by EHS. “It is the hope of EHS paramedics that Nova Sco­tians con­sider the grav­ity of the re­spon­si­bil­ity in­volved each time they sit be­hind the wheel,” says Lane. “The choices made can and will af­fect the lives of count­less peo­ple, and this is some­thing that is of­ten taken for granted.” Lane says a great deal of re­spon­si­bil­ity comes with sit­ting be­hind the wheel of a ve­hi­cle. She's ex­pe­ri­enced things from many dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives: as a para­medic on the ground, as an emer­gency med­i­cal dis­patcher and now as a com­mu­nity re­la­tions para­medic. “When we go on scene, in the mo­ment, there is that job that you have to do. There’s a cer­tain amount of com­part­men­tal­iz­ing that hap­pens. There are pa­tients that need med­i­cal at­ten­tion and that al­ways come first for us,” she says. “It’s the con­ver­sa­tions that you have after­ward that re­ally make the dif­fer­ence to kind of dif­fus­ing your emo­tions. And some­times, it’s re­ally im­por­tant to go back to that com­part­ment that holds that trauma and just spend some time re­flect­ing on the emo­tional im­pact that it has for you.” Whereas in the past paramedics per­haps didn’t get the sup­port they needed, there are now pro­grams and re­sources. She points to a health and well­ness team and a par­ent/fam­ily sup­port team that checks in with EHS mem­bers after trau­matic in­ci­dents and pro­vides fol­low-up. There are em­ployee and fam­ily as­sis­tance pro­grams and paramedics have been of­fered road to men­tal readi­ness train­ing. “We’re very lucky, we have a lot of sup­ports in place and col­leagues are re­ally sup­port­ive as well. Ev­ery­body is hy­per aware so we try our best to take care of each other.” Lane says it’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to know they never have to suf­fer in si­lence. And that’s im­por­tant be­cause first re­spon­ders never know when the next emer­gency will come. Or how se­ri­ous it will be. MORE FIRST RE­SPON­DERS When it comes to fire­fight­ers, the vast ma­jor­ity of in the prov­ince are vol­un­teers. Todd Sisk, the chief of the Sable River Fire Depart­ment in Shel­burne County, says those who have taken on this roll do not hes­i­tate to help oth­ers, whether they are re­spond­ing to a fire, a mo­tor ve­hi­cle col­li­sion or some other emer­gency. “These men and women go out on a sec­ond’s no­tice, 24 hours a day,” he says. “They leave their fam­i­lies and help strangers with­out even think­ing about it.” And there are times they wit­ness or ex­pe­ri­ence too much. As a fire­fighter - and a para­medic be­fore that - Sisk has re­sponded to mo­tor ve­hi­cle col­li­sions where there have been se­ri­ous in­juries. Pre­sum­ably, he says, some were at­trib­uted to speed and/or other fac­tors, such as inat­ten­tive driv­ing or driv­ing while im­paired. It both­ers Sisk that not all vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers are cov­ered by worker’s com­pen­sa­tion if they are im­pacted by a stress in­jury due to what they’ve en­coun­tered in their du­ties. He wants to see that change. But his depart­ment does de­brief­ings after ev­ery emer­gency call, where it is em­pha­sized that if some­body needs to talk or needs help, there is an out­let. “When we get a call for help, we sort of get tun­nel vi­sion in that we are asked to go out help and we do that with­out re­ally think­ing about what the im­pact might be after­ward,” Sisk says. “We go and do the job and we do the job to the best of our abil­i­ties. But then there is the af­ter­math of what ac­tu­ally hap­pened that we per­son­ally have to deal with.” Which is why if things are preventable, let’s – as a so­ci­ety – work to pre­vent them, he says. Col­li­sions caused by ex­ces­sive speed, inat­ten­tive driv­ing, tex­ting, and im­paired driv­ing are all preventable. “I don’t re­ally be­lieve in ac­ci­dents,” Sisk says. Yes, there are cases where things are be­yond a driver’s con­trol, but more of­ten than not, col­li­sions could be pre­vented if peo­ple would ad­just their driv­ing habits. Sisk also says peo­ple have to be more at­ten­tive in con­struc­tion zones, where the po­ten­tial for ac­ci­dents and in­jury ex­ist. The same goes for first re­spon­ders tend­ing to a scene on the side of high­way, he says. With win­ter upon us, peo­ple need to be aware of con­di­tions and drive ac­cord­ingly, says Sisk, al­though this is also a year-round re­spon­si­bil­ity. Sisk points to an area in his depart­ment’s cov­er­age area – Gran­ite Vil­lage – that has a lot of hills and curves. Posted signs in­di­cate speeds that have been de­ter­mined as the safe driv­ing speed. These aren’t sug­gested speeds, he says. “We have a lot of ac­ci­dents out there and I can only as­sume the vast ma­jor­ity of those would be caused by speed,” he says. “Ba­si­cally, peo­ple just need to slow down and start pay­ing at­ten­tion to what they’re do­ing.” It all comes down to de­ci­sions, adds Lane. “I would just say your de­ci­sion to go a lit­tle faster could im­pact the lives of more peo­ple than you could ever imag­ine,” says Lane. “I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced small chil­dren los­ing a par­ent be­cause of a de­ci­sion made that seemed in­signif­i­cant at the time and cer­tainly had never been wished on any­one. “It’s just my hope that ev­ery­one gets be­hind the wheel with the knowl­edge that driv­ing is not a re­spon­si­bil­ity that should be taken lightly – ever.”

CON­TRIB­UTED ABOVE: “As po­lice of­fi­cers we are sur­rounded by peo­ple who know what we are go­ing through be­cause they have been through it too,” says Const. Chad Mor­ri­son.

CONTRITBUTEDRIGHT: Krista Lane of EHS says a small de­ci­sion to speed can have a ma­jor im­pact on many lives.

TINA COMEAU PHOTO

RCMP Cor­po­ral Jen­nifer Clarke says given the po­ten­tial out­come of speed­ing, it’s just not worth tak­ing the risk.

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