Tag Archives: drunk driving

Driving Too Fast in the Rain is Like Driving Drunk

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.


Why Are There So Many Snowmobile Fatalities in Newfoundland and Labrador?

It seems like every winter, about a half dozen people or so are killed on a snowmobile in Newfoundland and Labrador. Each tragic death gets covered in the news, but broader story of why this province has such a disproportionately high number of snowmobiling deaths is largely ignored. With the current season all but over, I count 5 snowmobiling deaths so far, which is sadly not at all out of the ordinary.

I should point out that most snowmobilers in the province are responsible and that many snowmobiling deaths are purely the result of bad luck. Nevertheless, the consistently high number of deaths year after year suggests that there may be some underlying problems that need to be confronted.

Drinking and driving has thankfully gone down dramatically over the past couple of decades. Police recently set up a road block in the St. John’s area and didn’t catch a single drunk driver. Unfortunately, people do not have the same enlightened view when it comes to drinking and operating a snow mobile. Many otherwise upstanding citizens who wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car after a couple pints at a bar think nothing of taking a dozen cans of beer with them for their day out snowmobiling. Drink six beers and drive home and people will look at you like you are some sort of menace society. Drink six beers while you are snowmobiling and you may be looked at as being the responsible one.

There are two reasons why someone who wouldn’t drink and drive but would think nothing of riding their snowmobile while impaired. One is that the chances of getting caught by the police is much higher in a car than a snowmobile. The most important reason though is the perception that it is only your own life that you are risking when riding a snowmobile drunk.  Though it is true you are more likely to kill someone else in a car, people can and do kill others on snowmobiles. Moreover, even if you don’t kill another person, you will certainly be inflicting pain and suffering on the spouses, children, and parents that get left behind. A cavalier attitude towards riding while impaired may not be the only problem; we may be just as cavalier when it comes to danger.

For much of our history, a sizeable portion of the population earned a living by risking their lives on small boats in some of the roughest seas on earth. Fishermen accepted these risks as a way of life and for the most part didn’t even bother to learn how to swim. Perhaps this acceptance of risk that has been ingrained in us over many generations may help explain why so many people continue to make a hobby out of risking their own lives.

It won’t be easy, but the attitudes of a sizeable minority of snowmobilers need to change. While neither the government nor police can stop people from riding recklessly and/or drunk, they can track and publicize how many people die in snowmobile accidents in the province and how it compares to the rest of Canada. The comparative data is difficult to find, but I did see one 15 year old report in which there were 8 fatalities in Newfoundland and Labrador one year, compared with only 1 in BC and 3 in Alberta, provinces with much greater populations. Ontario, a province with 20 times our population only had twice as many fatalities. The more people are confronted with this kind of information, the more likely they will be to do something about this problem.