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How to Avoid a Victoria Day Tragedy

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For Ontarians, the Victoria Day holiday weekend means the unofficial start of summer.

It's the date circled on our calendars to begin that labour of love opening cottages, launching boats, lighting barbeques, shooting fireworks, and for the exceptionally brave, wading in for that first breath-taking dip of the season. They are the rituals so many of us relish and embrace. It's part of the perfect summer fantasy that helps us get through the winter.

However, the reality is that too many people forget what's it's really like, year after year, at the start of this long weekend. Put simply: they're often in too much of a hurry. They're tired, and frustrated by construction and heavy traffic that turns a two-hour drive into an exhausting four-hour highway marathon.

There are the distracted drivers who want to get in that last call or text to the office, without realizing that at 100 km/h, they can travel nearly the length of an entire football field in the three seconds it took to look at their devices. A lot can and does happen in that time, especially when aggressive drivers and speeders are part of the mix.

For the majority of those who arrive at the cottage safely, what better way to celebrate the long weekend than with a few beers at a friend's place, or a round of golf? The trouble is we all know that cabs are hard to come by in cottage country, and that alcohol impairs judgment to the point where those winding back roads may seem less of a risk to navigate.

So, while the Victoria Day weekend is one we all happily anticipate, for emergency room staff and too many Ontarians, it is also the beginning of trauma season; the time when getting to and from the cottage can be a killer.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation's latest statistics show that in 2010, seven people died and more than 300 were hurt in over 1,300 collisions on Ontario roads on the Victoria Day long weekend. A check with the City of Toronto's traffic safety unit, confirms that in Toronto alone, more than 130 people were hurt in over 400 collisions on this holiday weekend last year.

This is the long weekend when some drivers are still impaired on the Monday drive home from cottage country, or when good sense doesn't sink in for boaters -- that drinking and boating can have catastrophic consequences. Impaired boaters are risking their own lives and those of others... or at least their drivers' licenses.

This year it's worth pausing a moment for a reality check with some simple reminders.
If you can avoid the rush-hour cottage country drive, do so; you won't be sharing the road with those who, no matter how many aggressive lane changes they make, will only arrive about fifteen minutes ahead of everyone else who is keeping their cool.

And it may seem obvious, but step away from the cellphone. Put it in your briefcase or trunk and out of your hands so you won't be tempted to check just one last email.

Once you've arrived, there are some simple reminders for boating safety.

With water levels changing, new hazards emerge no matter how well you know the lake so boaters should take extra caution the first time out. Wear a life jacket, and while it's obvious, leave the alcohol on the dock because it's just as dangerous as drinking and driving. MTO and the OPP offer great safety advice. Take it.

I can't tell you how often I hear about the horrible consequences of mistakes like these. No holiday is worth the human cost I see in my practice. Watch video.

Let's make better judgment calls this Victoria Day weekend, so this summer kick-off is a safe, and happy one, for all of us.

Dale Orlando is a cottager, and Critical Injury lawyer at McLeish Orlando LLP