Every veteran highway-patrol officer hates the smell of antifreeze.
Canada’s most famous coroner, Larry Campbell — on whom the successful television drama Da Vinci’s Inquest was based — hates the smell of antifreeze.
Antifreeze is often the first thing an emergency responder smells at a fatal head-on vehicle crash. It’s a constant reminder of death and serious injury on the highway.
Police all over our country are tasked with the responsibility of patrolling our highways. The RCMP, Ontario and Quebec provincial police and Royal Newfoundland Constabulary all patrol deadly high-speed highways. They have been involved in horrific crash-scene investigations. Municipal police forces in every big city see violent intersection crashes on a regular basis.
How would you react if you were the first at the scene of a deadly crash? There may be severely injured passengers. Maybe a drunk driver is moaning as he sits in the ditch by the side of the road. If it’s a head-on crash, there will most certainly be the familiar but unnerving smell of antifreeze.
Maybe excessive speed was the cause of the catastrophe. Drinking and driving could be involved. Poor tires, brakes and perhaps inclement weather may all be contributing factors. (Distracted driving is now the leading cause of crashes throughout North America. It has marginally overtaken impaired driving as a factor in fatal crashes in most municipal jurisdictions.)
Now let’s suppose you were the constable who was required to go to the residence of a father and mother and inform them that their son or daughter was killed in a car crash. Suppose you were the one to go to the hospital with the injured. Maybe you have to conduct a breathalyzer test and can’t make it home until the next day, when your kids are already in school and your spouse at work. Weeks of reports, court documents and other prosecution-related duties occupy every constable’s time after a fatal or horrific crash.
Motorists should have a greater appreciation for the police who are charged with protecting us. When a driver gets pulled over for excessive speeding, does he ever think of the dire consequences of his actions? The main concern of most drivers stopped by police for speeding is for themselves. The constable, on the other hand, has a vivid image of the last dead child who was extricated from a crash scene, and the associated smell of antifreeze.
When drivers are convicted of impaired driving, do they ever think of the damage they may have done to innocent people?
The next time you’re stopped in a police counterattack roadblock, maybe you should thank the constable for looking out for all of our safety. We should all be more appreciative of police speed monitoring, seatbelt checks, mechanical inspections and the like. When you see a constable on the shoulder of the road, slow down and move to the same-direction left lane or, if that’s not possible, slow to an appropriate speed. It’s the law!
Above all, remember the frame of mind of each and every constable on highway patrol. When operating a radar unit, conducting a roadblock or similar duties, they’re just trying to protect the drivers, cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians in our traffic system.
Constables never want to smell the wretched scent of antifreeze at the scene of a violent vehicle crash. It often means only one thing: death.
Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Interior of B.C. He is the former vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas. Steve is a registered B.C. teacher and a graduate of the University of Manitoba.
© Copyright 2013