The Office of the Provincial Health Officer released a comprehensive report on road safety today.
“Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Reducing the Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes on Health and Well-being in BC” includes the most current data on motor vehicle accidents in BC.
The news is mostly good. Minister of Transportation Todd Stone says the province’s roads became much safer in the last two decades, thanks to cooperation between the Ministries of Transportation and Health.
“We all share the same goal and that’s to make our roads as safe as possible. I’m very proud of the fact that, between 1996 and 2013, the rate of fatal crashes in BC has been cut in half,” says Stone. “This downward trend in serious crashes reflects all of the positive work that has been undertaken to improve road safety in the province.”
But Stone admits there’s more work to be done, especially in Northern BC where the rate of motor vehicle fatalities is twice the provincial average. Although only 6.3% of British Columbians live in the north, 13.5% of fatal crashes occur here.
Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe says there are a few reasons for the number of fatalities on northern roads and highways.
“There’s larger road distances that people are travelling, there’s less public transport. You have many more issues with weather and road conditions and if somebody is in a crash in the more remote or rural areas, emergency response may take longer to get there.”
Minister Stone says his ministry is working on ways to improve safety for those driving in the north.
“There will be more 4-lane sections added to the Cariboo Connector. Likewise, we’ll be investing significant amounts in safety improvements on Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George,” he says. “We’re adding a record level of median barriers in the province. We’re putting down more rumble strips than ever before and then there’s the wildlife detection systems that we’re piloting in the Kootenays.”
Stone says $400 million has been spent on the Cariboo Connector in the last four years. As a result, more than 50% of that section of highway is now three or four lanes wide.
Chief Coroner Lapointe says she’s concerned about a trend outlined in the report.
“Of significant concern to the Coroner’s Services is that almost ⅓ of drivers and passengers who die in motor vehicle incidents are not wearing a seatbelt. That’s a significant number of people who would survive…they would survive those accidents if they were wearing their seatbelts.”
Lapointe has some advice for drivers and passengers
“Really my message is quite simple. On behalf of BC coroners, four simple messages – don’t drive while impaired by drugs or alcohol; stay within speed limits; wear your seatbelt at all times and, most importantly, be aware of vulnerable road users.”
Vulnerable road users include pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
Lapointe says that while major strides have been made in improving driver and passenger safety on BC’s roads, vulnerable road users haven’t seen the same results. In 2013, they made up ⅓ of fatal vehicle incidents.