By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, Neepawa Banner & Press
NEEPAWA, Man. — This fall, Manitoba Public Insurance launched a new awareness campaign. Called “Save the 100,” the campaign aims to put a face and a story to the approximately 100 Manitobans who die annually as a result of traffic accidents. The initiative is part of the 2017-20 “Road to Zero,” a partnership between MPI and the Province of Manitoba, which aims to make Manitoba’s roads the safest in Canada.
This is set against the backdrop of collision statistics. According to MPI’s 2017 Traffic Collision Statistics Report, 65 of the 51,844 collisions reported in Manitoba resulted in a fatality and 73 people died as a result of traffic accidents. The five-year trend is seeing a rise in the number of accidents, but a decrease in the number of fatalities. While 86 percent of accidents that resulted in injury or death occurred in urban areas, rural crashes accounted for a disproportionate number of serious injuries — 69 percent of people killed and 43 percent of people seriously injured.
Last year, distracted driving was considered a contributing factor in 40 percent of accidents that resulted in death or serious injury. This was followed by impaired driving (32 percent), losing control or driving off the road (close to 19 percent) and failing to yield right of way (15 percent).
Distracted driving may have been a factor in almost half of all fatal collisions, but it’s a catch-all term, including both incidents of careless driving and cases where drivers were distracted or inattentive. So while it includes people texting and driving, it also includes drivers doing things that are distracting, but not illegal, like talking to passengers or trying to decipher road signs. Breaking down the accidents where fatalities were recorded, of the 26 attributed to “distracted driving” in 2017, 18 were related to careless driving and nine were related to distracted or inattentive drivers. For comparison’s sake, that same year, 21 fatalities were related to impairment, 12 were attributed to loss of control, 12 were attributed to speeding and 10 were related to a failure to yield right of way.
Traffic fatalities have an unequivocal cost. MPI and the provincial government peg the social cost, which includes loss of life, medical treatment, rehabilitation, lost productivity and property damage, at $6.4 million per fatality. That’s before the immeasurable impact a loss of life has on the victim’s family and friends.
With that in mind, I would like to see MPI actually push for other improvements in road safety, beyond just cracking down on people using hand-held electronic devices at stop lights. I don’t see a huge push to cut down on speeding and I certainly don’t see MPI lobbying the provincial government to actually maintain and repair roads, especially in rural areas. I live near a secondary provincial highway and this year, like every year, it will spend the winter covered in ice — it’s never cleared quickly enough after the first snowfall. I don’t see MPI partnering with CAA to push for repairs to the province’s worst roads. I don’t see an abundance of crash barriers and I don’t see initiatives aimed at improving lighting or road markings, since MPI’s statistics show that most accidents happen in the darkest months. I don’t see much being done to address the physical road conditions that are likely to cause drivers to lose control or be uncertain about a right of way, both of which resulted in more fatal accidents than distracted driving.
This isn’t to make light of the tragedy experienced by the family and friends of those lost to distracted driving, but focusing singlehandedly on it does a disservice to all the families who have lost loved ones due to causes that aren’t nearly so fashionable, or profitable, to enforce.