Steve Wallace: Beware the May long weekend mayhem

Traffic experts have been trying to figure out why the May long weekend has been the most dangerous time to drive in the past few decades.

Here are some thoughts from professionals in the field of traffic safety.

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Professional truckers notice more large recreational vehicles on the road each year, beginning in May. People also head to their vacation properties for the first visit of the season.

Truckers sense the lack of skill and comfort of many drivers behind the wheel. Rental RVs are readily identified as being driven by the most tenuous of operators.

Towing a trailer of any kind can be difficult for inexperienced travellers. It’s best to give them generous space in all directions. Inexperience behind the wheel of an unfamiliar vehicle can be deadly.

The police have a few theories of their own. They see the carnage first-hand and are subjected to the most graphic and shocking scenes of loss of life.

Speed is the real killer. To be more exact, excessive speed is deadly. But police don’t get much sympathy trying to protect drivers from themselves.

They are called to the scenes of deadly crashes, usually at intersections and high-speed highways. Despite their best efforts at education and enforcement, the carnage continues.

Post-traumatic stress is a factor for police when fatal crashes happen, particularly when they involve young children. They know that mechanical failure is the cause of only a minute number of fatal crashes. Human error is by far the biggest factor in fatal crashes.

Another reason for the increase in crashes on the May long weekend is the sheer volume of traffic. More travellers means more crashes.

First responders will tell you that injuries sustained by unbelted occupants of vehicles are magnified significantly. The use of seatbelts has greatly reduced the likelihood of serious injury and death in motor-vehicle crashes.

Twice as many vehicle occupants were killed when seatbelt use was not mandatory in the early part of the 1970s in B.C. Airbags further reduced that number.

Ambulance attendants will tell you about one thing many traffic deaths have in common: they happen as a result of head-on and T-bone crashes.

Fire trucks are often first on the scene of a fatal. The efficiency of response to sensational crashes has been much improved since they became first responders.

Their most frustrating time is when they are prevented from getting to the crash scene by unaware motorists not giving way in a timely fashion. Drivers must pull to the closest side of the road, usually the right side, to allow an unobstructed passage of first responders and police personnel.

Many drivers are attentive to approaching emergency vehicles, but much less attentive to those approaching from behind or from lateral directions, which are harder to identify because of line-of-sight obstructions.

Tow-truck drivers deal with the aftermath of sensational crashes. Of all the people who deal with death on the highway, they probably receive the least credit for professionalism and skill under pressure in timely dispersal of vehicles at the scene. They help in many unrecognized ways at a crash scene. They deserve more credit than they traditionally receive.

Be careful this weekend. Be mindful of the May long weekend mayhem potential!

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island. He is a former vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a University of Manitoba graduate.

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