Fast times on At­lantic Canada’s high­ways

As­sess­ing the toll that comes with ‘get­ting there quicker’

The News (New Glasgow) - - FRONT PAGE - BY SARA ERIC­S­SON

Panic, fear and thoughts of worst-case sce­nar­ios over­whelmed Michael Tops as he ran to help his 12-year-old son and close friend af­ter the mo­tor­cy­cle they were on col­lided with a pickup truck.

The 2005 ac­ci­dent at the in­ter­sec­tion of Brook­lyn Street and Lanzy Road in Cen­tre­ville, Kings County, could have been worse. Both sur­vived, but Tops’s friend, Eric Payne, lost a leg, as well as his mil­i­tary ca­reer.

All be­cause of the dan­ger­ous driver Tops be­lieves caused the ac­ci­dent.

“The road­way they were on is a road where speed­ing is a nor­mal­ity — a back road out­side of town rarely pa­trolled by po­lice, in an area where traf­fic vol­ume is gen­er­ally low,” says Tops. “Whether there was a huge in­ten­tional com­po­nent there to be driv­ing dan­ger­ously, I can’t say. But, my gut tells me.”

Speed­ing fac­tors into in­sur­ance rates

Eighty per cent of mo­torve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents can be avoided with just a sec­ond more of re­sponse time. But that re­lies on

mo­torists driv­ing at the posted speed lim­its, says Gary Howard, vice-pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Cana­dian Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion’s At­lantic depart­ment.

Among the At­lantic prov­inces, New­found­land and Labrador had the high­est five-year av­er­age of

speed­ing tick­ets is­sued from 2013 to 2017 — 29 per 1,000 peo­ple — with P.E.I., New Bruns­wick and Nova Sco­tia com­ing in at 21, 20 and 17 per 1,000 peo­ple, re­spec­tively.

N.L. also has the high­est av­er­age an­nual in­sur­ance rates in At­lantic Canada, at $1,132. Prince Ed­ward Is­land has the low­est at $796, with Nova Sco­tia and New Bruns­wick in sec­ond and third, with av­er­ages of $842 and $819.

Rates take into ac­count ad­di­tional fac­tors, like a driver’s age and driv­ing record but also fac­tor in claims per capita for all kinds of ac­ci­dents, says Howard.

“The sim­ple thing is the higher claims mean higher risk, mean higher pre­mi­ums. The in­sur­ance in­dus­try is ex­tremely com­plex ... But in gen­eral, the three mar­itime prov­inces are com­pa­ra­ble.”

Tops, who works as a project man­ager and de­fen­sive driv­ing ex­pert with Safety Ser­vices Nova Sco­tia, says while he can only speak to Nova Sco­tia, he’s not at all sur­prised by what the data shows.

“Do I find these num­bers sur­pris­ing? Not at all — I think they may even be on the low side. Speed­ing has been nor­mal­ized in At­lantic Canada,” he says.

Dan­ger­ous driv­ing in At­lantic Canada: num­bers

Speed and ag­gres­sive or dan­ger­ous driv­ers are to­gether listed as one of nine key fac­tors con­tribut­ing to col­li­sions in Canada, ac­cord­ing to a Cana­dian Coun­cil of Mo­tor Trans­port Ad­min­is­tra­tors’ study called Canada’s Road Safety Strat­egy 2025.

The study de­fines these driv­ers as “driv­ing at speeds beyond posted le­gal lim­its or driv­ing too fast for road con­di­tions and driver be­hav­iours which are deemed il­le­gal or out­side so­cially ac­cept­able norms which put other road users at risk.”

Tops, a driv­ing in­struc­tor by trade who has taught mo­tor­cy­cle safety since the 1990s, rec­og­nizes the role age and lack of ex­pe­ri­ence can play in such ac­ci­dents.

He doesn’t feel it was a fac­tor when his son and friend col­lided with the truck, rather that speed and “inat­ten­tive driv­ing” were more likely to blame.

“Whether (the driver) drifted over, or it was Eric — the long and short of it is both ve­hi­cles were at the cen­tre line at the ex­act same time,” says Tops.

Dan­ger­ous driv­ing was also iden­ti­fied as a con­cern by the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Po­lice in its 2018 Op­er­a­tion Im­pact, an ini­tia­tive some prov­inces took part in to ad­dress ag­gres­sive, im­paired and dis­tracted driv­ing, as well as seat­belt use.

Nova Sco­tia par­tic­i­pated, but RCMP pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer Cpl. Jen­nifer Clarke says it’s dif­fi­cult to as­sess what di­rect im­pact the ini­tia­tive has had since it be­gan in Oc­to­ber.

Stunt­ing — a charge Nova Sco­tia driv­ers face if clocked driv­ing 50 km/h or more above the limit — is also cause for con­cern, ac­cord­ing to Clarke, who says data shows charges have risen steadily in the prov­ince since the law came into ef­fect in 2013.

“Be­fore that law came into ef­fect, some­one who was go­ing more than 50 km/h would have re­ceived a ticket for speed­ing, so it’s not as if driv­ers weren’t be­ing tick­eted for that of­fence,” she says.

Tops says he’s thank­ful both Payne and his son sur­vived the ac­ci­dent and says both men feel lucky the in­ci­dent has only left them phys­i­cally scarred.

Payne now presents as a mo­ti­va­tional speaker to other am­putees, and Tops’s son owns and drives his own mo­tor­cy­cle.

As for Tops, he now uses the ex­pe­ri­ence as a first-hand ex­am­ple of the con­se­quences of dan­ger­ous driv­ing and the sec­onds it re­moves from a driver’s re­sponse time.

“That ac­ci­dent could so eas­ily have taken both their lives,” says Tops.

In­creas­ing num­bers

One prov­ince see­ing a reg­u­lar in­crease in driv­ers caught speed­ing 50 km/h over posted speed lim­its is Nova Sco­tia, which has seen in­creases each year since 2013. In what Hal­i­fax Re­gional Po­lice me­dia of­fi­cer Const. John MacLeod calls an in­ci­dent “of sig­nif­i­cant speed and dan­ger to the pub­lic,” a Nova Sco­tia man was caught driv­ing 162 km/h over the posted limit in a Bed­ford school zone in March 2018.

This was one of 18 stunt­ing tick­ets is­sued in Hal­i­fax from Novem­ber 2017 to Novem­ber 2018.

“When­ever some­one chooses to ex­ceed these lim­its, it places both the oc­cu­pants of that ve­hi­cle in po­ten­tial dan­ger as well as the rest of the mo­tor­ing pub­lic and pedes­tri­ans in the area,” says MacLeod.

Such in­ci­dents show At­lantic Cana­di­ans still have far to go, says Tops. He sits on the prov­ince’s Road Safety Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, which he de­scribes as a “think tank” for the trans­porta­tion depart­ment.

Tops says the in­ci­dent serves as an in­spi­ra­tion to him and oth­ers de­cid­ing how to best ad­dress speed­ing and dan­ger­ous driv­ing that re­sult in these ac­ci­dents. They of­ten oc­cur due to sev­eral fac­tors, he says, in­clud­ing speed, weather, age, and ex­pe­ri­ence.

“There were cer­tainly a mul­ti­tude of fac­tors when our ac­ci­dent hap­pened — it was a recipe for dis­as­ter,” he says. “A mo­ment of inat­ten­tion can make a life­time of dif­fer­ence.”

Clarke said the one thing po­lice can con­tinue do­ing is change tac­tics, such as us­ing car rentals to spot traf­fic vi­o­la­tions or even dress­ing po­lice as hitch­hik­ers watch­ing for cell­phone use.

“We will con­tinue to be out there ... try­ing to do our part to im­prove road safety for Nova Sco­tia driv­ers,” says Clarke.

Tops’s fam­ily and Payne met up in 2015 in Cold­brook to mark the 10-year an­niver­sary of that life-chang­ing ac­ci­dent. They have dubbed the an­niver­sary “Alive Day” to cel­e­brate that they and their love of mo­tor­cy­cling sur­vived.

“Af­ter the ac­ci­dent, we all still rode. Has it changed the out­look? Sure, and some things are a lit­tle more pro­nounced now — a lit­tle more cau­tion used on blind turns,” says Tops.

It doesn’t take much, es­pe­cially if speed­ing, to have a fa­tal­ity. – Gary Howard, CAA At­lantic


Sgt. An­drew Buckle with the Nova Sco­tia RCMP uses a LI­DAR unit to catch speed­ers.


Michael Tops, right, stands with his son, wife and close friend Eric Payne. While rid­ing mo­tor­cy­cles along Brook­lyn Street in Cen­tre­ville in 2005, the bike Payne and Tops’s son were on was struck by a pickup truck. They are pic­tured here in 2015, when they met to mark the 10th an­niver­sary of the event they’ve dubbed “Alive Day.”

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