Monday, November 14, 2011

Killing More of Us Each Year, It's Time To End the Bad Driver Epidemic

I just finished listening to a CBC, St. John's, interview with a flag person from the town of Paradise, Newfoundland, Canada. Sadly, I'm not surprised when hearing yet more concerns about bad drivers.

Cars are a huge part of our lives. They make life easy. They get us to work. They carry our kids to school. They even take us on short holidays giving us a break from the usual grind. Behind a house, a car is often the next most expensive purchase we make. Some people even see their cars as part of their identity. We get excited about cars; just listen to the interview by the former Opal owner, later in the same broadcast.

On the other hand, some still drink and drive. Many use cell phones and text. Just about all of us don't give a second thought about hitting the gas a little more than we should if we're running late. If you want to see just how bad inattentiveness and lack of care can get, just watch Canada's Worst Driver.

Taking our vehicles for granted has a huge downside.

My home is on a busy street that is used by many as a through-fare in the St. John's area. It is an old and narrow street and would never be built this way using current standards. What's more, some years ago, the posted speed limit was actually raised.

I can think of many accidents on this dangerous road. A driver once left the road, cut through a utility pole, went through my parent's front yard, and came to a rest in their neighbour's. My parents live just up the street from me. Across the street from that, in another incident, a car left the road and damaged a stone wall next to the entrance of an elementary school. A few hundred meters down the road, a vehicle left the road and damaged another neighbour's stone wall. If we keep going down the street, to my own home, a driver, going too fast for the accumulated snow, sideswiped the utility pole between my home and my neighbour's home rather then hit the oncoming city bus. The impact was hard enough to dislodge a transformer fuse, cutting the power to myself and a number of my neighbours.

The incident which left the biggest impression on me, both literally and figuratively, happened just over two years ago. A driver who was legally intoxicated by prescription medication was coming up my street. I had just left my own home to walk to my parents house just up the street. I was on the sidewalk. Somewhere behind me, the driver became disoriented and possibly unconscious as a result of the medication. The SUV drifted into the oncoming lane. When the driver snapped out of it and tried to correct, the SUV fishtailed, hopped the curb, and hit me.

I heard the tires scream behind me. I had just enough time to pivot on one foot and look over my shoulder. My last clear memory was seeing the windshield of the SUV shatter from impacting my head and shoulder; I thought it looked like a spider's web. That memory is as vivid now as it was then. Later, the accident investigator told me it took hours to pick my hair out of the windshield.

Within 48 hours, I underwent two emergency surgeries. My leg was crushed below the knee. Before the surgeon could place a pin from my knee to my ankle, he had to make incisions on each side of my lower leg from just below to just above my calf. This was left open, bandaged, for roughly 24 hours because the muscle damage caused so much swelling, my foot would have died from lack of circulation.

In addition, my collar bone was broken at its joint to the shoulder blade and the ligament at the joint completely separated. This required another two surgeries. I can no longer do many things I wished to do before the accident because of my shoulder. The fifth and I hope the last surgery removed the pin which was placed in my leg after the accident.

Finally, the impact my head sustained has caused my ears to ring permanently and my balance is a problem if I close my eyes or it's dark. This has gotten worse as time goes on.

I required strong pain medication for about a year. During that time, I decided not to drive at all. Sure that was a nuisance, however, I know for a fact that I'm not responsible for doing to someone what was done to me.

The pain medication, as normally happens with opiates, caused me physical dependance. Luckily, within days after my fourth surgery, I decided to get off them. If you are under the impression that addiction can only happen to others, think again. It took at least two months before I started to feel myself again. The first month is summed up by saying I felt like I was living in Hell on Earth. After that surgery my pain was at a moderate level. Within a day or two of giving up my pain medication, pain became excruciating. My joints, skin, and bones hurt with indescribable pain. This was not pain in the areas of my injuries. I had terrible diarrhoea. I became depressed and anxious. My world was turned upside down all over again. A few days in, I took some pain medication because I just couldn't stand it any longer. I thought about that lapse, realized this would never end if I kept it up, and made my final decision not to take any more.

The person who hit me had just received a dose of methadone for an opiate addiction. The thought of continuing that chain of addiction was probably what gave me the will to suffer more pain and give them up myself. I have no hatred or anger for the person that hit me. That person was trying to fight a monster that I now understand vividly. From what the accident investigator has told me, neither the driver's doctor nor pharmacy gave adequate warning of the side effects.

I hope my graphic descriptions do upset people. If you are upset by what you have read though, don't use it as an excuse to finger a group, individual, or social problem. There are many causes for the accident which I have described. There are even more causes for the accidents I mentioned briefly leading up to the one which has effected me so greatly.

Think about this instead: Cars are not an absolute right. The most basic law we have in Canada, The Constitution, tells us what rights we give ourselves. Real rights include the right to life and security of person. I was lucky I didn't lose my life and my security of person was certainly denied me. Cars are a privilege. Each time we get behind the wheel of a car, we are taking responsibility for others. What's more, what chance does a bicycle or pedestrian have against a many thousand pound vehicle travelling at speed? By forgetting about others when we get behind the wheel, we are gambling with the lives of others. It could be your spouse, your child, or your parent. Remember this when you're in a hurry.

We do have a myriad of legislation meant to insure the safe operation of motor vehicles. It's great stuff in theory. Practice, though, seems to be another matter. Things have to change.

Politicians have to think. Why would anyone, in their right mind, raise the speed limit on a section of road which is over capacity? Are you afraid that you are going to inconvenience people who are in a hurry? Time for a cliche: two wrongs don't make a right. Stop thinking your political image is more important than safety.

Drivers have to change. Pay at least as much attention when driving, in general, as you would backing into your own driveway. Value other lives as much as you value your own property. Don't let yourself fall into the trap of hurrying. You will get there eventually and so will everyone else. If you want to show you're smarter than most, plan your time better. Finally, if these reasons aren't good enough, think about the cash you'll have in you pocket from lower insurance rates.

Enforcement has to change. It doesn't have to cost a lot or be unpopular, politically, either. I felt safer walking in Ottawa then I do here. That seems counter intuitive since Ottawa is a much larger city with far more traffic. Perhaps, we haven't yet realized we are a bigger and busier place than we used to be. Ottawa also has methods of enforcement like red light cameras. So lets try out things like video recorders at construction sights, intersection cameras, and speed trap cameras. We don't need many. We just need plenty of signs reminding us that we will be held accountable. The technology can be moved from location to location thus preventing the ability to ignore it. What's more, the technology is no where near as costly as paying for more police in patrol cars. Finally, if you introduce the new systems gradually, very few are going to deny the supporting politicians a vote. Start new systems with a period of warning notices, not fines, perhaps, followed by a period of fines much lower than normal. It is just as easy or easier to print and deliver warnings than fines. With an approach like this, people will learn that the laws we have on paper are in practice, too. Perhaps we will all become a little more responsible.

How long will it be before I can stop worrying if I walk out my front door?


  1. Wow...very touching story..graphic but it was definetly needed to make people understand the severity of this! I wish you well and hopefully someday soon there will be tougher enforcement..or at least more people that will use common sense.

  2. Related Links:

  3. I just found @BadDriversNL on Twitter:!/BadDriversNL