The weather and crippling cost of fuel may have kept you closer to home over the long weekend, but the unofficial start to summer normally means we’ll be spending more time out on the roads. That’s especially true of jaunts into the country, lakeside or otherwise.
The Canada Road Safety Week that culminated in Victoria Day traffic enforcement draws attention to the reality of summertime driving. 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.
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, some five Canadians die in road crashes every day – there were 1,745 fatalities in 2020, down one per cent from 2019 (1,762). Those numbers are down markedly from two decades earlier, when some 2,500 people died in motoring incidents.
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The number of fatalities per 100,000 population decreased to 4.6 in 2020 (from 4.7 in 2019), and is the lowest on record. The number of fatalities per billion vehicle kilometres travelled increased to 4.7 in 2020 (from 4.4 in 2019). Despite significantly fewer kilometres driven, the fatalities only went down slightly, the federal agency reports.
Of the 1,591 fatalities in 2020, 852 were in rural areas – 54 per cent. The injury numbers, however, reflect the divide in urban versus rural driving: 52,073 or the reported injuries occurred in urban areas (71.4 per cent), whereas 18,995 occurred on rural roads (26.1 per cent).
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 the collision rate 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.
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. Victoria Day under our belts, the summer travel season is now underway full swing, and despite clear skies and ideal road conditions, avoidable collisions do occur at this time of year.