Drivesmart column: Do we really want safe roads?

Fast forward five years and nothing has been done to check and see if there has been any improvement

By Tim Schewe

According to media reports some drivers are taking advantage of the current light traffic conditions to behave badly. When stopped by police and ticketed for their actions the latest response is, “Why aren’t you fighting the epidemic instead of writing tickets?” I have it on good authority that you are more likely to die in a traffic collision than you are from contracting the COVID-19 virus.

We have quickly taken extraordinary measures, including spending huge sums of money and drastically changing our everyday behaviour to prevent deaths due to the epidemic. Overt displays of disapproval from the majority toward the minority who do not conform to our new reality are commonplace.

Why is this not also commonplace with respect to unsafe road users? Do we really want safe roads?

British Columbia does have a Road Safety Strategy. Take a look at that web page. It appears that the strategy was last updated in 2016.

At the bottom of the page is information on a BC Communities Road Safety Survey conducted by RoadSafetyBC. Eighty-one of 189 municipalities responded to the survey and all of them said that road safety was a priority in their communities. Overall, those responses indicate that organized programs, stakeholder consultation and the use of data for guidance was rare.

Fast forward five years and nothing has been done to check and see if there has been any improvement. This despite the provincial government having transferred significant amounts of money to municipalities for public safety use under the Traffic Fine Revenue Grant program.

Efficiencies in traffic enforcement were heralded in 2012’s Bill 52 that was supposed to replace ticket disputes in traffic court with an administrative tribunal. This would exchange the time officers spent in court for more time on the road improving safety. This is still “over the horizon” for implementation when I last inquired.

Speaking of traffic court, I attended as a spectator last month. There was a lot of deal making between the officer and the disputant prior to trial. Many tickets were resolved by a guilty plea as the vehicle’s registered owner instead of the driver. This means the driver did not receive penalty points or a driving record entry for the violation.

The latest version of the Intersection Safety Camera Program has also removed the owner’s ability to nominate the driver. Under this program no one receives penalty points for behaviours that contribute to more than 50 per cent of collisions in B.C.

With a little planning and luck, one could rack up a few violations yet maintain a clean driving record and stay invisible to ICBC and RoadSafetyBC.

July 1, 2008 saw the requirement to report collisions to the police dropped from the Motor Vehicle Act. In March last year police were no longer required to report a crash to ICBC if they investigated one unless the damage exceeded $10,000 or involved injury or death.

How accurate are today’s collision statistics, particularly those for distracted driving? If I failed to see a vehicle stopped in front of me and rear ended it, do you think that I’m going to tell ICBC that I was busy using my cell phone at the time?

My final observation is the cost of insurance for new drivers. Four thousand dollars a year is unacceptable for an ICBC premium, yet that is the equivalent of what I paid when I bought my first car, a used Cutlass Salon. Hardly in the same class as a Camaro or Firebird.

I’ll repeat my question, do we really want safe roads?

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca

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