Highway safety issues still a big concern in SRFN
On Oct. 26, a traffic slowdown was held at Serpent River First Nation (SRFN) to voice highway safety concerns and create awareness to drivers using Highway 17, which cuts through the community.
With SRFN straddling both sides of the highway, families and friends often walk to visit each other. According to a representative of SRFN, “many times vehicles have not stopped after hitting a member.”
On Friday, the day of the demonstration, community members both young and old took part in handing out brochures to drivers explaining in detail the safety concerns of members. Indigenous liaison officer Tod Showan, with the OPP, was on hand to keep things safe for drivers and demonstrator.
In the early 2000s, a fourlane passing section was constructed on the section of highway running through the First Nation. Shortly after the four-lane expansion one community member was struck and killed. For the better part of the decade following the expansion, the speed remained at 90 km per hour. As recent as last year the Ministry of Transport eliminated the passing lane and built a bicycle and walking path on the stretch running through the community in an effort to increase safety. This action by the MTO resulted after many meetings between community members and the MTO. At that time the speed was reduced to 80 km per hour on part of the stretch of highway with a small section reduced to
Since the reconstruction, the MTO performed two speed data collections on the highway, one in the spring of this year and another in the fall. SRFN administration was informed by the MTO that there was only a one per cent compliance on the highway running through the community. Excessive speeding continued as illustrated in an OPP follow-up on the speeding problem.
Further to this, the OPP sent patrols out to the community between Sept.
10 and Oct. 1 this year targeting aggressive driving and speeding. Thirty-eight charges were laid over a period of 54.5 hours.
Community members are upset with these statistics that confirm their worst fears, the highway is not safe.
According to Chief Elaine Johnson, “Our First Nation had three pedestrian deaths over the last 40 years. The last death was in 2017.”
She added, “A visitor from Elliot Lake had his side mirror taken off his car by a passing transport truck this summer while he was turning onto a side road. A school bus had stopped on Highway 17 with its lights and stop sign raised when a transport truck who was travelling in the opposite direction was speeding so fast that he couldn’t stop and drove past the bus. We are just fortunate that no child was crossing the highway at that time. I have been passed by vehicles going past the speed limit and passing me on a turning lane. Many First Nation people have had similar incidents of near misses and vehicles driving aggressively on the highway.”
On Sept. 30, there was hit and run where a 20-year-old pedestrian was stuck and injured; the driver did not stop.
At one of the first meeting between SRFN and the MTO, a community member asked if it was possible to make the stretch of highway running through the area a Community Safety Zone. With this designation from the MTO, speeding fines are doubled automatically and the designation has proved to be a speeding deterrent in other communities such as Espanola and AOK First Nation on Manitoulin.
At the time of this first meeting the community member was told the OPP had said they did not have the manpower to enforce a Community Safety Zone at that time. Apparently, things have changed in this regard as stated in a recent email: “Serpent River First Nation is putting in an application (to the MTO) for a community safety zone. We have a letter from the OPP to support our application. MTO is aware we are submitting this application.”
As for the slowdown information sharing at the demonstration, Johnson said, “As for today, despite the cold dreary weather, we were able to make a statement. The young people had the opportunity to express their voice by giving out information on safety of the highway. This message affects us all. Not just our First Nation. We all should be concerned about highway safety for pedestrians and all vehicles.”
SRFN community member sharing safety concerns with tractor trailer driver on Highway 17.