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Editorial Rant: Are we stupid, or what?

Image: aftermath of a fatal car crash, by Shutterstock.

We have more fatal crashes than any other region.

Are more drivers in the Southern Interior region of BC notably more stupid than drivers elsewhere in BC? Do so many of us here just not have a clue about winter driving? Or are we so much unhealthier that we have that many more medical crises causing car crashes? The statistics on the number of crashes and people injured and killed in crashes in our region, especially compared with those in all the other parts of BC, are appalling.

There are increases in the number of crashes and associated fatalities everywhere in BC with the onset of winter conditions from October to December, but the Southern Interior Region apparently has more deadly drivers per capita than anywhere else in our fair province. Our number of crashes has not just increased  ̶  it has historically more than tripled. That’s not an honour, folks.  Au contraire.

Just recently, we’ve seen fatal crashes near Midway, and between Trail and Castlegar, and in Castlegar a man was struck by a vehicle and hospitalized with injuries. No, we don’t yet know why those particular drivers’ cars went so tragically astray, and I am not attributing any of them to anyone’s stupidity, or casting blame. And make no mistake: these were all major tragedies.  Lives were cut short. Friends and families have been left to grieve, and that grief will hurt for as long as they live.

Let’s look at a few statistics.  We can criticize statistics and their misuse all we like, but these are compelling.

On the ICBC website, factors that have been found to contribute to crashes have been broken down into speed, impairment, distraction, high-risk driving, and driving too fast for conditions. Of course, those factors may overlap:  someone who is drunk or stoned may speed excessively, and “speeding” may also overlap with “driving too fast for conditions;” excessive speeding is also one form of “high-risk driving.”

Of the four regions in BC (Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Southern Interior, and North Central) drivers in the Southern Interior have had more fatal crashes in which speed is listed as a contributing factor than any other region.

And, to condense this a bit, Southern Interior drivers also have had more fatal crashes with EACH of all the other contributing factors than any other region of BC. Under “driving too fast for conditions” our region had a five-year average of 21 fatalities annually; the next highest average number  ̶ 10  ̶  was in the North Central region, which admittedly does have a lower total population of drivers, but also equally severe winter conditions.

“Driving too fast for conditions” doesn’t just apply to winter-time’s slippery roads, but also to things like fog, rain and puddles, visibility in falling snow, and even traffic.  Don’t our drivers have the sense to slow down when it’s slippery, or visibility is limited?

Distracted by electronics, or anything else?

Distracted driving:  looking at electronic devices or talking on the phone while driving  ̶  well, in my books that’s very stupid. There is nothing so important on anyone’s phone or iPad (or whatever) that it’s worth risking a gory, messy and painful death or debilitating injury instead of waiting a few seconds, or even several minutes, to pull over and stop at a safe place before checking it out.

Many of us think of young people as feeling invulnerable to disaster and taking too many risks  ̶  but humans of all ages are susceptible to the feeling that stuff like that happens only to other people, because their judgment is generally flawed, while ours is perfect, perhaps even divinely inspired. (Think you have a guardian angel? Ever think he or she might get tired of protecting you from your own arrogance, and just let you suffer the consequences sometime?)

It’s worth remembering that we are vulnerable to other people’s errors as well as our own, and that we can minimize our vulnerability by driving defensively  ̶  watching out for everything around us, including other people’s stupid behaviour and ensuring that their errors don’t push us into driving unsafely too.

We all make mistakes.

No one should be defined by the worst thing they’ve done. Everyone makes mistakes. If we survive them, we can learn from them. Surviving driving unsafely? The lesson should not be “hey, I can get away with doing stupid stuff!” The more intelligent response would be, “uh-oh, I was lucky that time, but it was pretty stupid and I could have hurt or killed someone, including myself. I won’t do that again. Ever.”

Let’s try to improve the Southern Interior’s shameful driving record. For one thing, crashes are expensive.  Apart from the big fat personal expense and inconvenience, they make insurance rates go up  ̶  'way up. They also cause deaths and so much grief, and injuries which can mean a lifetime of pain and disability, and lasting and crushing guilt for a driver who caused death or injury but survived. 

Our region has more than its share of traffic-related tragedies. Drivers in the Southern Interior aren’t really collectively that stupid, are we? We can check the next five-year average batch of statistics next time they’re issued, to find out.

Meanwhile, I’m wishing everyone a crash-free holiday season.  On second thought, let’s make that a crash-free rest-of-your-life.