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What More Can We Do?

When the risks from well-known high-risk behaviours materialize, that is, when textbook cases produce statistically probable results —what are we to make of them? What more can we learn? What more can we do to stop them from happening? Vancouverites are grappling with this following the death of two pedestrians on Saturday February 7th at 11:53 pm when they were hit crossing West 4th Avenue under the Granville Street Bridge reportedly with the walk signal, by a Buick SUV driven by an 18-year-old male driver.

The driver fled the scene but was quickly apprehended. Reportedly, the striking vehicle had also contained two young female passengers. Initial reports from the police identify speed and alcohol as likely factors being investigated. As Allan Lamb, Executive Director of the BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation aptly put it in an interview the following Monday on CBC morning radio, it appears to be a classic case involving a large number of well-known risk factors: the age and gender of the driver, speed and alcohol as likely factors, and time of day—Saturday night being the most common time for the likely occurrence of fatalities.

Perhaps the answer lies in our collective understanding or, more accurately, our misunderstanding of high risk driving behaviours. Public perceptions of ‘aggressive driving’ generally focus on street racing, road rage and other ‘off the charts’ types of driving actions. And when the term ‘high risk driving’ is used, these extreme aggressive driving behaviours are what come to mind first.

The crash statistics, however, paint a somewhat different picture. The latest, from 2005, show that most high-risk driving—driving that most commonly causes crashes in which people are killed or seriously injured involves not-so-out-of-the-ordinary behaviours. These behaviours, not ranked in order of severity are:

• Failing to yield the right-of-way
• Following too closely
• Ignoring traffic control devices
• Improper passing, and
• Speeding

The ICBC website—www.icbc.com—has real time video clips of these high-risk driving behaviours at various BC intersections. The do not result in crashes — but they do show how common, how normal, how so-not-unusual real high-risk driving behaviours appear.

Not surprisingly, therefore, most people who engage in these behaviours do not regard what they are doing as ‘high-risk’ and do not think of themselves as aggressive drivers. Surveys consistently show that people are quick to pin this label on other drivers, but not on themselves.

Fuelled by sadness, and anger, and the frustration from failing to prevent such a tragedy, the blogs are full of suggestions: —more law enforcement, stricter penalties, and more disciplined child-rearing—all worthy considerations. But there is also much merit in Allan Lamb’s comments that it’s up to all of us to try to do better, to model better, safer, driving behaviours for our children and our teenagers who, despite what we may think, do model their behaviour on ours and continue to need parental involvement with and engagement in their driving lives.



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