Drivers cause accidents, too

The Southern Gazette - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 39 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­[email protected]­ Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

Last month in Nova Sco­tia, the pro­vin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments an­nounced a com­bined to­tal of $285 mil­lion - $90 mil­lion from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, $195 mil­lion from the prov­ince - to twin a dan­ger­ous stretch of Nova Sco­tia high­way.

The 38-kilo­me­tre span be­tween Suther­land’s River and Antigo­nish has seen more than 400 accidents, with 16 deaths, since 2009.

In New­found­land and Labrador, $4.8 mil­lion is be­ing spent to add rum­ble strips, pass­ing lanes and new on-ramps to the Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial High­way, af­ter more than 200 in­ci­dents on the 40-kilo­me­tre stretch of road in the past four years, and a string of fa­tal accidents.

But will the money re­ally re­duce car accidents, or just move them to dif­fer­ent places?

First, let me be clear that I’m not sug­gest­ing that the work doesn’t need to be done, nor that peo­ple killed and in­jured are to blame for what hap­pened to them.

I’ve driven both roads; they’re poorly de­signed for their re­spec­tive traffic loads and use, and are in need of the crit­i­cal up­grades they’re now get­ting. They are pinch-points where peo­ple get killed, and if we can fix those haz­ards, that’s a good thing.

But that’s only part of the story. Will the work sig­nif­i­cantly change the num­ber of high­way accidents and deaths in the At­lantic re­gion? Prob­a­bly not.

The At­lantic prov­inces have had a long-run­ning his­tory of con­stant high­way im­prove­ments. Year af­ter year, brush is cleared, bot­tle­necks are re­paired, bridges are widened, dan­ger­ous curves are re­built and things like rum­ble strips are added.

Our cars are safer ev­ery year, too, de­signed to ab­sorb the en­ergy in crashes in ways that pro­tect the driver and pas­sen­gers. New cars sur­round peo­ple in airbags, and blind-spot in­di­ca­tors warn those among us who can’t keep track of traffic be­hind us. There are cars that warn their drivers when they are trav­el­ling too close to the car in front; there are au­to­matic brak­ing func­tions in case some­thing darts in front of your car. Driv­ing is eas­ier and more com­fort­able than ever.

But there are still crashes, and plenty of them.

Be­cause driv­ing well is as hard as it has ever been - and may be harder than ever, as our ve­hi­cles lull us into a false sense of 110 km/h se­cu­rity.

So, the roads are bet­ter, the cars are bet­ter, the tech­nol­ogy is bet­ter, the view planes are clearer.

What hasn’t changed? And what has got­ten worse? On a re­cent week­end, in driv­ing rain, I drove to­wards St. John’s and saw a cam­per, clearly in trou­ble, driv­ing slowly with its in­side wheels on the shoul­der, four-way flash­ers flash­ing. I saw it first from al­most a kilo­me­tre away - dis­tance enough that I could slow eas­ily while watch­ing other speed­ing traffic ap­proach the trailer be­fore a bloom of tail­lights as car af­ter car jammed on their brakes be­fore run­ning into the cam­per. Cars sped up tight be­hind me be­fore swing­ing into the al­ready clogged pass­ing lane, mak­ing an al­ready-dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion even more dan­ger­ous.

Whether I’m walk­ing or driv­ing, I see mis­takes made by inat­ten­tive drivers ev­ery sin­gle day. Drivers on cell­phones, drivers tex­ting, drivers mak­ing right turns while steadily look­ing left. Sat­ur­day, I watched a cell­phone-talk­ing driver miss al­most an en­tire cy­cle of a flash­ing green ar­row, only to turn onto a two-lane sec­tion of road and drive with the cen­tre line di­rectly un­der­neath his car.

If you’re ill-pre­pared for the road, is that the road’s fault, or yours?

My mother used to be quite blunt: “You can’t fix stupid,” she told me on more than one oc­ca­sion.

You can fix all the roads in the world, but it will make no dif­fer­ence if you can’t find a way to fix bad driv­ing, too.

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