Manitoba has a road death problem. Every year we see fluctuations in collision and death rates, and it’s not too much of a concern as long as the general trend is downward.
But crashes this year have killed almost twice as many Manitobans as last year. RCMP tells us that 34 people had died in auto collisions by this time in 2015, and the number is already up to 71 this year.
Two factors seem to be causing most of the increase in deaths: lack of seat belt use, and impaired driving.
Not Using Seat Belts
The first of these is the most puzzling. Seat belts have been mandatory in Manitoba since 1984. The reasons for not using them are so flimsy as to be incomprehensible:
- They forget (doubtful)
- They’re only going on a short ride
- They can escape if the car goes off a cliff and catches fire
- All kinds of dumb excuses
According to news reports, alcohol was a factor in about 40 percent of road fatalities.
Manitoba has an impaired driving problem, one that might begin with its laws. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada gave the province an F+ rating for its lax attitude towards the rime. In particular, MADD would like to see some new laws enacted:
- Successful completion of an ignition interlock program for all DUI offenders before relicensing. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking
- Immediate roadside suspension and vehicle impoundment upon drunk driving arrest
Speed has always been a demon that takes lives on the road. About half the fatalities this year in Manitoba involved excessive speed. More recently there has been an excess of “super-speeding” – in effect, driving at road-racing speeds.
If this spike in Manitoba road deaths is an anomaly, it’s a very large one, and worth more examination. What’s clear is that almost all of the causes – the ones above plus distraction and error at intersections – are caused by drivers, and are preventable.
It’s hard to know what one can do about seat belts – people have had decades to get used to the idea. But more effort has to be put into combating distraction. Too many drivers, and not just young ones, are dividing their attention between the road and their devices.
There is a clear path for improving drunk driving numbers: better ignition interlock laws for Manitoba. Those devices actively prevent people from drinking and driving.
We hope this bad news will lead to some brainstorming and perhaps better news next year.