Increasing safety on the Malahat
The Malahat’s dangers can’t be eliminated, at least not without great cost and controversy. But the road’s safety could be increased with simple and inexpensive measures suggested in a provincial government report four years ago. The cause of the terrible weekend crash that claimed the life of a motorcyclist hasn’t been determined. Police have suggested a medical condition might have caused a car driver to veer into oncoming traffic.
But the children of Colin Grant, the man killed, and rescue personnel have called for road improvements to help prevent such deaths in future.
The Malahat poses special risks. The roadway is winding and narrow, with rock walls and steep drops only metres from drivers. Uncontrolled roads and driveways mean traffic is frequently slowing and drivers are making left turns across a busy highway. Volumes are heavy, and increasing. And users include both daily commuters and truck drivers, familiar with the road and in a hurry, and tourists and occasional users inclined to be more cautious.
Drivers are navigating difficult conditions, at speed, on an undivided highway, so crashes can be devastating.
A 2007 report concluded that the major investment — in the hundreds of millions of dollars — required to widen and realign some sections of the Malahat was not economically justified. It did warn of increasing congestion, as peak use was forecast to rise to 2,500 vehicles per hour by 2026 — far above the road’s 1,400-vehicle capacity.
It suggested short- to medium-term improvements to improve safety and reliability. Improved lane markings, additional passing and turning lanes and increased RCMP enforcement would all help, the report found. Indeed, an enforcement effort this summer — which has ended — did appear effective.
And the report — like Colin Grant’s family and Malahat Fire Chief Rob Patterson — said concrete barriers between the lanes of oncoming traffic could save lives.
Those measures wouldn’t be costly, and the government has spent less than $10 million on making the Malahat safer since 2001 — a period in which 14 people have died on the road.
The weekend crash did show improvements in the Transport Ministry’s communication about the length and impact of the road closure. A report following last spring’s crash of a gas truck in the Goldstream area found a series of failures and breakdowns in responding to the disaster and informing the public.
The response to this crash should also be reviewed, particularly in terms of the six hours it took to investigate and re-open the road and the co-ordination of the various agencies involved.
The Malahat’s dangers can’t be eliminated. They can be reduced, and increased enforcement and more dividing barriers in higher-risk areas would be a good start.