by Cedric Hughes, Barrister & Solicitor with regular weekly contributions from Leslie McGuffin, LL.B.   

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Safe Driving on Long Weekends

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As another long weekend approaches our collective memory of the car accident statistics for the 2003 Canada Day long weekend dims. Lest forgetting this recent history dooms us to repeat it, here is a brief refresher: 9 killed and 24 injured. Of the 9 fatalities, 8 resulted from vehicles colliding where road conditions, weather and visibility were not reported as issues. The ninth person killed was an elderly man on a bicycle who was hit by a car backing out of a parking stall in a shopping plaza. As is usually the case, driver error would appear to be the probable cause of all these fatalities.

On long weekends, speed, alcohol and fatigue are the usual suspects behind “driver error." Many British Columbians take advantage of long weekends to drive to their holiday destinations. Driving long distances on highways, motorists are often tempted to speed and are also susceptible to fatigue. This is a deadly combination. According to police reports, unsafe speed is the top-contributing factor in motor vehicle crashes involving fatalities. Last year, 171 people died in collisions in which speed was reported as a contributing factor. In almost 40 per cent of fatal crashes, speed is a factor.

Whether you are driving on city streets or mountain highways, safe driving involves expecting the unexpected. The speed at which you are driving dramatically affects the time you have to react to the unexpected. In average conditions, a car traveling at 60 km/h will take about 45 metres to stop in an emergency braking situation. A car braking from just 5 km/h faster, that is from 65 km/h, after 45 metres, will still be moving at close to 32 km/h. Research undertaken at the University of Adelaide in Australia has shown that the risk of crashing doubles with each 5 km/h increase in free traveling speed above 60 km/h; conversely a 5 km/h reduction in speed can result in a decrease of at least 15% in the number of crashes. Likewise, the faster you drive, the harder you hit. As your speed increases, the forces of impact increase twice as fast. If your speed doubles, the force of your impact increases four times. The force of impact makes the difference between life and death.

Why is everyone in such a hurry? What is our collective need to speed all about? Perhaps we drive faster on vacation because we consider the time so valuable; maybe the distances we have to cover are so great that we have difficulty being realistic about travel times and don’t allow enough extra time for delays due to traffic volumes or construction. Perhaps we are a province full of “accident-prone" personality types —competitive, ambitious, time-conscious, and work-focused “Type A’s" or remorseless, impulsive, non-planning, unconcerned-about-safety “Anti-socials." Whatever the answer, unless we make getting where we are going more important than getting there quickly, we may be doomed to repeat the statistical pattern reviewed above. Slow down and leave plenty of space between your vehicle and the one in front.

The urge to travel far and get there quickly makes for long hours behind the wheel. Long hours behind the wheel make for driver fatigue. According to recent studies, a sleepy driver may be just as, or even more dangerous than a drunk driver. If you are taking a long driving trip, sleep can be your best defensive driving tool. Get plenty of rest before you hit the road. Long hours behind the wheel, particularly at night, make you drowsy, less alert to danger and slower to respond. Don't push it. If you feel tired, pull over and grab a nap, drink some coffee or take a walk to refresh yourself; better yet, call it a night and get a hotel or motel room.

Vacations are a time to kick back, relax and enjoy yourself, but drinking and driving do not mix on vacations either. Don't drink and drive. Navigating is even more of a challenge in new places. Other revelers may be over indulging— for your own protection, you need to be more aware and alert.

Cedric Hughes of Hughes and Company Law Corporation with contributions from Leslie McGuffin, LL.

Cedric Hughes

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