Steve Wallace: Sobering statistics on vehicle crashes

Following on the heels of the student driver being charged with drunk driving last week, while on a driving lesson with an accredited driving school in Vancouver, comes the news of a driver in Montreal being killed while on a driving test. The 33-year-old examiner, in the latter case, was reported to be in hospital, seriously injured.

Quebec’s organizational circumstances are very similar to those in B.C. The insurance company is contracted by the government to conduct practical driving tests.

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The Montreal incident is sad indeed. Driving examiners do not have the same safety mechanisms as instructors, who are in their own vehicles with an additional brake, mirrors and very visible signs identifying them as such. Examiners are most likely seeing the driving candidate for the first time, and are unlikely to know the relative skill and safety level of the person being tested.

This was the case with the 74-year old driver who died in hospital as a result of his injuries sustained in the crash with the train during the test. This type of test is usually taken by those with an extenuating health condition. It is long past time that examiners in all provinces should be doing these tests with access to their own additional brake system, and getting the protection afforded and mandated for driving instructors.

The families of both people involved in this Montreal mishap must be devastated.

Railway crossings are dangerous places. “Any time is train time.”

Here is a review of the facts, as they pertain to vehicle-train crashes.

In twenty-five per cent of vehicle-train collisions, the driver hits the middle of the train. Whether the train is stationary or moving is inconsequential. Crash investigators have some theories as to why this is the case. Some believe elevated tracks contribute to the lack of train awareness. Others think night driving makes it more difficult to identify the danger. Still others believe suicide is involved.

When asked to estimate the speed of an oncoming train, a sample group consistently chose a speed about half the train’s actual velocity.

The greater the number of control devices, such as cross-bucks, flashing lights, gates, and dramatically painted road markings, the greater the likelihood of a crash.

More people have been killed at level crossings than in plane crashes in our country in most years since 1945.

“Accidental death” is often reported in the media. Recently, a young man was killed when he positioned himself on the running board of a limousine while it travelled on a busy Vancouver street. He lost his balance and fell to his death. The details of this occurrence will be investigated, and any people involved will be called to answer some tough questions. A coroner’s inquest is not a matter to be taken lightly.

An assistant fire chief recently commented on the number of fire-related deaths each year in Vancouver. The average was 23 over the past eight years. The number of vehicle fatalities each year in B.C. average about 300. That is about 2,400 “deaths by car” over the eight-year period provincially. It is always difficult to compare statistics across different areas, but the dramatic difference, despite the manner of death, is striking.

Accidents are defined as those circumstances that are seemingly unavoidable. Most vehicle mishaps are avoidable, and should be more properly referred to as crashes. It is the most accurate way to define vehicle collisions.

Regardless of how we refer to them, the pain and suffering is a reality for every family.

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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