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Road safety week highlights the fact we can do better

We’re in the midst of Canada Road Safety Week, a campaign focused on making us more aware of the bad driving habits we need to shake in order to make our roads safer.

Police typically focus on what are called the “fatal four” – impaired driving, distracted driving, aggressive driving and not wearing a seatbelt – in such campaigns. Rural areas aren’t exempt from such issues, with speeding being an ever-present concern.

The idyllic rural life doesn’t apply to the roadways – statistically, you’re more likely to be injured in an automobile accident on roads in the townships. Part of the problem stems from a false sense of security: we’re driving on lightly travelled roads, so we tend to let our feet get heavier, and our minds wander. The result is that we suffer more injuries and fatalities when collisions occur – there are no fender-benders at 80 km/h.

Waterloo Region has been taking note of that lately with plans to put in more all-way stops at particularly risky intersections in the townships.

While most traffic accidents happen in busy city areas where the speed limit is 60km/h or less, most of these accidents are not serious enough to cause death (a consideration, too, in the debate about roundabouts). On the other hand, two-thirds of all “deadly accidents” happen on rural roads, in the country, where speed limits are faster and the roads aren’t as well-lit as they are inside the city. Drivers are more likely to find poor or unexpected conditions on rural roads, than in the city, and there’s always the danger of coming across animals that can appear out of nowhere, reports Transport Canada. (Across the country, an average of five Canadians die in road crashes every day, though that number has been on a downward trend for the past 20 years.)

Distractions appear more plentiful on rural roads: on busy urban streets, we have to focus our attention on driving because there is so much going on around us; out in the countryside, police surmise, we’re less attentive – moving at greater speeds, we have less time to react when something happens, and we’re less likely to be aware of a possible problem until it’s too late.

Studies have shown that driver behavior greatly influences collision rates on rural roads. Motorists tend to think they are “safer” on rural roads since there is much less traffic, forget they have to share the roads with farm

vehicles and animals, and tend to speed since they know that speed enforcement is lax. Alcohol and illegal substance abuse and lack of seatbelt use are often contributing factors in injuries and fatalities.

The numbers do explain the commonly expressed feeling that Woolwich and Wellesley have seen an extraordinary amount of tragedy – we have, in fact, had a more-than-average number of incidents.

That said, much of the heartache is avoidable: as officials point out, the term “accident” is a misnomer. If a collision is deemed preventable – the result of speeding, inattention, driving inappropriately for road conditions, drinking or drugs, and the like – there’s nothing accidental about the results.

The good news is those numbers and the terrible human cost they represent – behind every statistic there are real people dealing with real consequences – can be reduced by individuals making better choices when they get behind the wheel. With the Victoria Day long weekend here, the summer travel season is here, albeit muted just now by the ongoing pandemic, and despite clear skies and ideal road conditions, avoidable collisions do occur at this time of year.

With that in mind, now is a good time to tweak our awareness out there on the roads.

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