There was some heavy rain in the St. John’s metropolitan area this morning, so like virtually all mornings when it is rainy, traffic on all the major roads ground to a standstill because of cars hydroplaning and sliding off the road. Luckily nobody was seriously injured or killed. I want to be clear that not everyone who has an accident when it is raining was driving recklessly; it is to be expected that there will be more accidents when roads are in poor condition. I will say though that far too many people do not adjust their driving to the weather conditions and these people are putting their own lives and the lives of others at risk.
We as a society have come a long way when it comes to drinking and driving. Once upon a time if you only had a six pack of beer and didn’t drive home people would have looked at you funny. Now if you drank a six pack at someone’s house and drove home you would be looked at as a menace to society. A lot of people, particularly the people at MADD, have put in a tremendous amount of work over the years to change these attitudes and many lives have been saved because of it. I can’t help but feel though that we need an organization devoted to combating reckless and stupid sober drivers.
I find that I am rarely passed on the highway when the roads are clear and dry. When I am driving my Jeep on the Outer Ring Road in the snow or rain, however, I regularly have cars fly past me as if I were stopped. No doubt many people go through their entire lives without causing an accident by driving much too fast in bad weather, but there are also people who drink and drive and never cause an accident. The uncomfortable truth is that people who don’t drive appropriately in bad weather, either from a lack of knowledge or a lack of caring, cause more injuries and deaths on the road than drunk drivers. Most people realize this is a problem but there is a sense that this is just an accepted fact of life.
When someone who is driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit causes an accident, there is public outrage and that driver faces serious legal consequences, including potential jail time. If someone is driving too fast in the rain, hydroplanes and causes a fatal head on collision, it is considered a tragic accident. The person who caused the accident, if he or she survives, only has to worry about a higher cost of insurance.
Changing attitudes towards drinking and driving took decades, so there will be no quick fix to changing how people drive in poor weather, but if anyone is looking for a place to start we should take a look at our outdated speed limit system. Right now if the speed limit on the highway is 100km/h, it is 100km/h 24 hours a day, seven days a week, regardless of whether or visibility. Police always tell us to adjust speeds accordingly, but you still can’t get a speeding ticket for doing 100 on the outer ring. The reality is that on a relatively smooth divided highway in clear and dry conditions the speed limit could be raised to 110 or 120km/h without much of an impact on safety. On the flip side, there would be a significant impact on safety if the limit was reduced to 90 or even 80km/h in rain, fog, or snow.
If the government were to change from a fixed 100km/h limit on highways to a 90/110 system based on weatehr, I believe there would be a significant reduction in highway accidents. It wouldn’t just be because of the reduced speed limits in poor weather, but also because they would be formalizing the concept that speed limits are dependent upon whether.