Long-term solutions needed for road tragedies

by Chris Kennedy
The Richmond News
March 27th 2002

Bad weather, street racing, driver inexperience, alcohol, speed, poor road conditions -the reasons are endless but there are simply too many people losing their lives on local roads. Over the spring break, there were at least nine fatalities on Lower Mainland roads and scores of more drivers and occupants were injured.

Statistics show these recent tragedies, especially amongst the young, are nothing new. In the 13-21 age bracket, one is about nine times more likely to die in a car accident than in a homicide in B.C. In 2000 86 B.C. youngsters in this age bracket died in car accidents, while some 461 have perished over the past six years. The numbers are staggering.

Put into another context, the school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in April 1999 that resulted in 13 deaths focused people’s attention on school violence and what can be done to ensure events like it are not repeated. Just last year in Canada, the death toll for young people in auto accidents was more than 50 times greater than the school shooting tragedy at Columbine.

There is a myriad of issues at work with road safety. When it comes to street racing, the B.C. government has taken a good first step. An immediate roadside suspension for us to two years is a sensible penalty. The fact that Solicitor General Rich Coleman is also looking at impounding vehicles is also a positive step. Clearly, the warnings for street racers are not getting through.

This being said, a presumption of innocence must be protected for those accused. Impounding vehicles is a consequence that will be immediately felt, but it must be done fairly and consistently. Perhaps a better solution is to fast-track these cases through the courts. Harsh penalties for street-racing must be part of a larger plan and not a hasty reaction to public outcry.

The photo-radar debate needs to be reopened. If photo-radar can help slow drivers down, assist an overstretched police force, and help improve overall road safety, it is worth another look. The disdain for photo radar developed as it was perceived as another tax grab by an already unpopular NDP government.

Schools can also play a key role. While ICBC has been forced to trim many of its school outreach programs over the past several years, they still have a number of important resources available, including classroom lessons and guest speakers. Schools continually need to address road safety and driver education issues.

Watching local graduate Cara Johnston-Filler, who lost her twin sister in an accident, speak to grade 12 students is one of the most powerful lessons I have ever heard.

Protecting ICBC’s road safety programs, tightening up the graduated licensing program, and improving the conditions of roads all must also be part of the plan.

Road safety is a huge issue, with many variables. Knee-jerk responses are not enough. A high profile coordinated effort by all levels of government, ICBC, schools, and other interested parties is long overdue to address the tragedies on our roads. A plan for both better enforcement and improved education is needed now.