Thursday, August 6, 2015

Driving Surprises

Each time I venture onto our roads I return convinced that we motorists are killing and maiming each other in record numbers.

We must be, considering the recklessness we witness every day on our highways. You’ve seen it all: vehicles tailgating so close you can’t see their head lights in your rear-view mirror; passing on double caution lines before hills and curves; impatient and distracted driving, and of course, speeding.

I decide to go looking for numbers to confirm my impression that our roads are increasingly becoming slaughterhouses. The numbers that I find shock me.

Despite all the bad driving habits I witness on the highways, fewer people are dying or being maimed in auto accidents. That seems impossible considering the number of distracted drivers, reckless drivers, speeding transport trucks and the deteriorating condition of many of our roads. But it’s true.

Back in 1994, 3,230 people died and 164,635 were injured in traffic crashes across Canada. Those numbers have declined steadily and by 2014 were down to 1,923 people dead and 120,660 injured, a remarkable drop considering the increased population and growing number of vehicles.

Closer to home, fatalities on roads patrolled by the Ontario Provincial Police also have declined. Last year there were 265 fatal collisions on those roads, down from 380 10 years ago.

Those numbers paint a picture of safer roads, part of which might be attributed to better driving practices.  It is not an accurate picture, however.

Fewer people are being killed or maimed on our highways, but the number of accidents is increasing. There were 75,000 collisions on OPP patrolled roads last year, compared with 69,000 five years earlier.

Also, collisions involving transport trucks are increasing. Last year there were 6,140 transport truck accidents on OPP roads. That’s up substantially from five years earlier when 4,667 were reported.

That’s no surprise to anyone who spends any time on Highway 11, or the 400. If you drive those roads at 10 kilometres over the limit, you will be passed by streams of big rigs doing 20 or 30 kph over the limit. And, have you ever seen police pull over a transport truck for speeding?

So despite fewer deaths and injuries our roads in fact are becoming more dangerous, not safer. The decline in deaths and injuries likely can be attributed to more seat belt use, air bags and generally safer vehicles.

Charges for not using seatbelts - and incidentally for impaired driving - have declined steadily. Distracted driving, however, is rapidly becoming the big new danger on our roads.

Ontario this summer increased distracted driving fines from $60 to $500 per offence to between $300 and $1,000. Also, a distracted driving conviction now will cost a driver three demerit points.

My road travels also have left me with the impression that I am seeing more OPP cruisers pulling over more vehicles. Therefore the OPP is charging more and more bad drivers. That also is not an accurate picture.

The OPP has been writing fewer tickets for highway offences. Last year it issued 431,267 tickets under the Highway Traffic Act, 45,000 fewer than in 2013 and 48,000 fewer than in 2012.

The OPP also are nailing fewer drivers for speeding. They issued 253,427 speeding tickets last year, 40,000 fewer than in 2013 and 41,000 fewer than in 2012.

They are starting to get more drivers on the relatively new Slow Down, Move Over law. That’s the one where you must slow down or move to another lane when approaching police, tow trucks and emergency vehicles that have their lights flashing. In the first six months of this year OPP have charged 763 drivers for failing to comply with that law. The fine is $400 to $2,000 and three demerit points.

So what this fact finding exercise has taught me is that numbers don’t always tell the true story. Despite fewer deaths and injuries, our roads are just as dangerous as before, probably more so.

(From my Minden Times column Aug. 6, 2015)

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