B.C. drinking-driving deaths cut in half
The CBC reports today: “Deaths from impaired driving in B.C. have been cut in half since new drinking-driving regulations took effect last fall”
This is very good news indeed. The coverage of the new regulations at the time they were brought in, and subsequently, seem to be negative. There was a lot of uncertainty about how much you could drink safely – so most people, it was suggested, stopped going out and restaurants were hit hard. There was, it was conceded, the impact of the HST might also have had something to do with that. The campaigners at Mothers Against Drunk Driving have shown how effective a pressure group can be – and ought to be pleased with these results.
On the same day George Monbiot deals with the related UK story of photo-radar – or “speed cameras” as they are called there.
The experiment is over and the results are in. In April, Thames Valley police switched Oxfordshire’s speed cameras back on. They had been off for eight months, as a result of the government’s decision to cut the road safety grant. Then the police began assessing the damage. In the 31 days before the cameras were switched off (July 2010), the machines caught 2,286 speeding motorists. In the 30 days after they were switched back on, they caught 5,917.
In the eight months without cameras, there were 18 deaths on the roads in Oxfordshire, compared with 12 in the same period in the previous year. This was the first time in four years that the number of deaths on the county’s roads had risen. Serious injuries rose from 160 to 179.
When Gordon Campbell was first elected he cancelled the highly unpopular photo radar program here. That was a bit different to the UK system which uses fixed cameras: in BC there were vans parked at the side of the road, and while in theory they could go anywhere in practice they showed up at sites which – according to the critics – produced the most revenue. Those opposed to photo radar here and there have always concentrated on the “cash grab” argument. Which, as Monbiot points out, has been consistently disproved – but the facts that don’t suit the opponents
journalists and others have promulgated a powerful and dangerous myth: that speed cameras are useless, and exist only to tax the public.
We now have a new premier who has promised change. I would like to suggest that rather than attacking ICBC (which has been providing good value car insurance, and profits, and has pioneered road safety features like modern roundabouts) she turn her attention to speeding and the toll that has on road users. For speed and collision severity are not just strongly correlated, we also understand the physics of collisions. The greater the speed, the greater the energy that has to be absorbed in a collision, and the greater the damage to people who are not inside steel cages.
On drinking and driving “… there are 23 people in British Columbia that are alive today because of the new policies and new penalties,” Penner said in Victoria late Thursday.” I wonder what the story would be if the same attention were paid to excess speed. I think that speeding is an offence that occurs far more often than drink driving – because nearly everybody seems to do it most of the time. And nearly all of it goes undetected, simply because we do not have anything like the resources to deal with it. I find the method of enforcement of our drink driving law oppressive: everyone passing a road check gets stopped and questioned. There is no presumption of innocence and now much less “due process” but we seem to have accepted that the saving of lives justifies this intrusion on our right to go about our business without interference until suspicion falls on us. Unlike speeding, there is no lobby that actually suggests that drink driving should be encouraged – though there are plenty of people who have – they say – taken an economic hit due to stricter laws and tighter enforcement. But most drivers believe that they are better than average, and that the design speed of roads (and, of course cars) is much higher than the posted speed. Indeed, on the Sea to Sky Highway – and the Patullo Bridge, come to that – it was not that the road was inherently dangerous, but that drivers refused to obey the posted speed limit no matter what the conditions.
My suspicion is that if we used the current red light cameras to photograph speeders as well – something they can easily do – we would see a significant change in behaviour. Most obvious the current belief that “green means go, yellow means go faster”. Fixed cameras at the highest collision sites would be the next step – and average speed cameras on sections of road that have no intersections – bridges would be my first choice. The Oak Street bridge has a posted speed of 60 km/hr. Most drivers treat it as part of the freeway (it isn’t) and excess speed across it is common. Indeed, once released from the line up prior to 70th and Oak, the green light southbound there seems to be seen as a starting gun. Average speed cameras do not use radar: we use similar equipment here all the time to measure flows through intersections by comparing license plates on vehicles entering and leaving an intersection. The same technology using two cameras at a known distance apart and synchronized to the same time produces incontrovertible evidence that the vehicle covered it at excessive speed. The only argument, of course, is who was driving it at the time.
The latest data from ICBC is 2007 “The number and rate of deaths in speed-related collisions has fluctuated over the RSV 2010 period with no clear trend in more recent years. However, the increasing trend observed from 1999 to 2002 has not continued.” I cannot help but feel that trend might have had something to do with the ending of photo radar.
My reading of that is that 160 people died in collisions “involving speed” . In that same year alcohol was the cause of 120 deaths. It seems to me that there is a greater case for effective speed enforcement on this statistic alone. Although maybe I should talk to Vicky Gabereau about why the statistics page at the ICBC website seems to be so far out of date.