On a trip earlier this week from my office in Duncan to a meeting in Lake Cowichan, I began to realize just how dangerous Highway 18, the stretch of road connecting the two communities, can be.
I wasn’t involved in any accident on the trip, nor did I see one, but for the first time since I began regularly driving the highway a number of years ago, I began to see how unsafe it is compared to the Trans-Canada Highway that runs from Victoria through Duncan to Nanaimo and northern communities on the Island.
The four-lane TCH has concrete and other barriers that separate the north and southbound lanes along most of its route to avoid head-on collisions, and barriers along the sides of the highway where it could be deadly if vehicles went off the road.
Mind you, the TCH still has its fair share of accidents and fatalities regardless of the safety measures, but I imagine the death toll would be much higher without them in place.
Highway 18 has very few of these protections and, to me, it seems as if the highway was just not properly completed.
The highway, which has a speed limit of 100 km/h, has nothing to keep east and westbound vehicles apart, and it struck me on my journey this week that it wouldn’t take much to distract someone’s driving for just a quick second to find themselves drifting into oncoming traffic.
Slippery road conditions could also cause a vehicle to veer uncontrollably into a vehicle travelling in the other direction on that roadway.
At the combined speeds of both vehicles, which could be as much as 200 km/h on the highway, the resultant head-on collision would be likely horrific, and I doubt if many people walk away from these accidents when they occur.
There there’s the big steep drop-offs that border Highway 18 for much of the route.
There are few barriers to keep a vehicle that has gone out of control from plummeting down those embankments, and if the vehicle’s occupants are fortunate enough to survive that, they would probably be injured and/or trapped in the vehicle.
If no one saw them go over the bank, it might be some time before rescuers are alerted and arrive because the vehicle would be well out of sight down the hill.
Added to all that are the elk who wander out onto the highway, creating hazards for drivers that have proven fatal in the past.
It’s the only stretch of highway in southern Vancouver Island that I know of where this danger exists.
There are a lot of deer everywhere on the Island and many of them get killed on the roadways, but they are much smaller than elk and more of a nuisance than anything when struck by vehicles, where the most people usually have to worry about is a broken headlight or a bent bumper.
But elk are much larger than deer and can cause a lot of damage to vehicles and drivers when hit, especially at high speeds.
A number of people have been killed in collisions with elk over the years on Highway 18 and, despite calls for wildlife fencing along the highway to keep the animals off the road, all the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure came up with to deal with the problem was to install six flashing signs warning people to watch out for elk in areas identified as high wildlife crossing zones.
That may work in heavily crossed areas, but I don’t think elk follow the rules of the road much and would not likely stick to those six areas where the flashing lights are located to cross the highway.
There’s no doubt in my mind that wildlife fencing would certainly be more helpful, but I guess the ministry felt that it was too expensive, regardless of the lives lost.
There’s a lot to be looked out for on that highway, so motorists should stay on their toes while driving on it.