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John Ducker: Notes from the road as driving season heats up

Some random road safety thoughts as we approach what will likely be an extremely busy summer on our roads.
Motorists merge from four lanes into one as they enter the Lions Gate Bridge to drive into Vancouver, July 15, 2011. As summer approaches, get ready for an extremely busy time on our roads, writes John Ducker. THE CANADIAN PRESS

Some random road-safety thoughts as we approach what I think will be an extremely busy summer on our roads.

I’m seeing too many drivers still using their phones, like the guy last Monday on McKenzie Avenue, doing 80 km/h in a 60 zone while blabbing away — iPhone in hand. Distracted driving continues to push its way to the top of the list of causes for collisions. Stop it or at least get a proper cell-phone holder.

Speed bumps don’t solve every municipality’s driving problems. A reporter back East described the speed bump as the municipal traffic planner’s “crack cocaine.” Responding to every neighbourhood traffic complaint with a speed bump is both costly and often ineffective.

They do reduce speeds, emergency vehicles included, but they are a double-edged sword. Increased noise levels, driver frustration and vehicle damage are often side effects of knee-jerk responses to local complaints. We have one near our neighbourhood that bumps you up so high I think it was salvaged from the Maginot Line. That’s too much. Narrowing roadways, radar warning signs, and speed cushions can be effective alternatives depending on the street.

Speaking of radar signs — why do they still activate in school and playground zones during times when that limit is not in effect? We’re in the era of self-driving cars and satellites, now the size of toasters. Surely, we can program these signs to flash Mister Sad Face only during the time the limit is in effect. Seeing a warning sign flash when it’s not required just increases driver cynicism and says that these contraptions and the speed limits they warn about don’t actually matter.

Bike lanes are certainly here to stay but we need more consistency in some of their engineering. There are some places in Greater Victoria where the roadway shoulder marking lines change three or four times within a couple of kilometres. First, it’s a solid white line, then it becomes a bike lane with a bike symbol painted in it. Fifty metres later it’s a green painted safety area with a bike symbol, then another 50 meters later it goes back to a solid white line again. We need more consistency as our biking infrastructure increases.

How many overpasses do overheight heavy vehicles have to pummel in the lower mainland before some action is taken? This problem is a convergence of poor driver training; too much demand on drivers to make up time and cut corners and; the lack of advanced overheight warning systems. There used to be one or two of these incidents a year, now they seem to be happening weekly. Fortunately, human injuries have been minor, but we’re going to run out of luck soon.

Glove Box: Dan emailed last week with a timely reminder around motorcycle safety for the summer. His timing is spot on because this has been a bad year already for B.C. riders. Eight bikers have died so far on our roads, surpassing the total of six for this time in 2021 — the last year for which we have data. The latest one happened on May 6. Alexis Wiltse was riding on Shuswap Road north of Kamloops where she struck a large pothole, crashed and was killed. Four days earlier, Squamish mounties responded to two separate motorcycle crashes on Highway 99 within hours of each other. Both riders sustained critical injuries but are alive.

According to RCMP Highway Patrol, motorcycles make up 3% of all insured vehicles in B.C. yet account for 10% of fatal collisions. This year is not trending well.

Experts advise that extra caution when riding is critical. First off — choose a bike you can actually handle — the lure of speed and power is dangerous, especially for novice riders. Shorts, tank tops and sandals are not proper riding gear. Clothing that is both visible and protective are essential, as is a proper helmet. Entering intersections, even on a green light, requires double your concentration. Respecting the speed limit, especially when rounding curves is also a must for the safe rider. For the rest of us, we have to consistently think in terms of: “Is there possibly a motorcycle approaching?” especially when we turn at intersections, change lanes or enter roadways.

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