On occasion I like to believe that people can change their behaviour. I suppose I am an optimist in that regard, at least until I am proven wrong. This past week I was deeply troubled by the report about some recent statistics as they do not bode well for our ability to change our behaviour. Those statistics? The traffic infraction numbers for February to March 27 2013 on Highways 63, 881, and 69.
To call the numbers "troubling" is a bit mild. During that time period law enforcement officials meted out 2,911 charges. 1,768 of those were speeding offences. 81 were for distracted and dangerous driving, the vast majority of those for cell phone use. And 21 were for impaired driving, impairment from drugs and alcohol. When I read these statistics I was far, far from reassured about our ability to change our behaviour, because at the beginning of this year we saw several deaths on local highways - and it seems we didn't learn a damn thing from any of them.
We are rapidly approaching the one year anniversary of a horrific collision on Highway 63 that ended seven lives, forever altered the lives of the survivors, changed the lives of hundreds of their friends and family members, and I believe profoundly affected this entire region and far beyond. That collision on the afternoon of April 27 is one that I believe resulted in the commitment to expedite twinning of Highway 63. Progress is being seen on the twinning, and work is moving along as evidenced by the friends and community members who send me messages and photos of the construction activity on that highway. The question I ask, though, is what progress have we as drivers made in the past year? Have we internalized the horror of that day and allowed it to impact our driving behaviour - or have we abdicated responsibility entirely?
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I have always been a proponent of twinning Highway 63, and I continue to be. I believe it will save lives by ending head-on collisions. But I am also worried that once it is twinned we will see far fewer fatal head-ons but perhaps far more horrific collisions leaving badly injured survivors. You see if we do not change our behaviour we can change the highway all we like and still see tragedy. We will not end the crosses on the local highways until we address all the angles, including ourselves.
Perhaps you wonder why I have chosen to post this here at Huffington Post Alberta instead of in my local blog (although I will share it there as well). The reason is very simple. Take a look at the news reports of the deaths on Highways 63 and 881. Look at the names, and the ages. Then look at their place of residence. While some call Fort McMurray home many of the dead come from Edmonton and Calgary, B.C. and Ontario, and points all over this nation. The death toll is not one that affects only this community in the far north of Alberta but rather our entire country and far beyond. The ripple effect reaches far beyond my community, and quite likely right into yours. When I travel almost everyone I meet knows someone who works in Fort McMurray, and many of them travel the highways leading into this region. That makes every single one of them a potential cross on the side of the road. This is not a regional problem, or even a provincial one - this is a national problem.
I am at the point where I think the time has come for draconian measures. Impound the cars of speeders, and yank their licenses. Erect speed cameras on the 63 and 881 and use the money derived from them to increase law enforcement. Do whatever needs to be done to force people to change their driving behaviour - because frankly we don't seem to be able to control ourselves. We don't seem to understand that our actions have consequences, and that while twinning will reduce head-on collisions it may not reduce the frequency of collisions at all. We don't seem to understand that driving impaired (whether because of drugs, alcohol, or exhaustion) may well end our lives, or the lives of others. We continue to use our cell phones to talk and text while driving, despite the knowledge that this behaviour is dangerous to our ability to concentrate. We continue to drive at unsafe speeds, engage in risky behaviour, and endanger ourselves and others. And all the while we are doing this we insist on a twinned highway, thinking it will somehow save us from ourselves - and while it might I fear we are developing a complex where we blame the highway and fail to take into account our complicity in our own deaths.
I want to believe we can change. I truly do, because every new cross on the side of the highways leading into this community is another loss that has deep and profound effects on all of us. Every single cross speaks to a life cut tragically short, a family forever changed, and a community that has lost a member. And every single cross makes me fear that perhaps we cannot change, and that perhaps we are only going to see more horrific collisions like the one almost one year ago. I truly hope I am wrong in this fear - but every single damn one of those 2,911 traffic infractions makes me wonder if I am right, and fear that we are not only destined to see more tragic collisions like the one on April 27, 2012 but doomed to repeat it.