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Why Do We Keep Counting Accidental Deaths?

The New Year resets the fatality-count ticker around the globe. Headlines report the civilians and soldiers killed in armed conflicts. In British Columbia, skiers and snowmobilers killed in avalanches and other misadventures are big stories. And if they have not done so already, most major newspaper dailies and community newspapers around the world will also be marking, albeit with much less fanfare, their ‘first traffic fatality.’

In Vancouver, this fatality reportedly occurred on January 8th at 10:30 pm when a pickup truck crossed the median in the 100–block East 2nd Avenue and collided with a minivan. The 36-year-old male pickup driver was killed; the minivan driver reportedly suffered minor injuries. Two days earlier a 19 year-old Delta resident was killed when his dirt bike hit a metal girder blocking access to a construction site on the Tsawwassen reserve. His 13-year-old male passenger suffered severe head injuries. Neither one wore a helmet. This may have been Delta’s ‘first fatality.’ These stories, alas, are too common for the front page but remarkable enough for being ‘firsts.’

Counting traffic fatalities and injuries might seem unnecessary. It is not. This complex exercise is all about reducing or avoiding unnecessary deaths. In Canada counting is done at various levels of government through various government agencies and by various for profit and not-for profit organizations. This results in statistics from the federal government from Transport Canada, Statistics Canada and the RCMP; at the provincial level, for example in British Columbia, from ICBC and from various police jurisdictions including the RCMP, and independent police forces including First Nation Police Forces.

The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, and Intelligent Transportation Systems Canada —all of these organizations and more either independently collect or independently “crunch” the numbers that have been collected. The number of data sources, the overlaps and the inevitable gaps make understanding what the numbers can tell us an ongoing and complex challenge.

As the “BC 2006 Traffic Collision Statistics on Police-attended Injury and Fatal Collisions Report” notes:

“Traffic collision information …determine[s] collision trends over time and … identif[ies] problem factors (e.g., driver, vehicle, environmental). The information supports road safety programs and enforcement campaigns such as CounterAttack and Operation Impact. It is used to evaluate provincial road safety initiatives, for monitoring of commercial vehicle collision trends and … safety programs; for identification of highway locations which may require improvement; for highway planning; and for guiding the development of new policies and programs to reduce the frequency and severity of collisions in the province. Data extracted from the system are used in planning and research by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), provincial government ministries and by the federal government. The Ministry of Transportation and municipal engineering departments across the province rely on traffic collision data to assist in the planning, design and improvement of roads and highways.”

…by Cedric Hughes, Barrister & Solicitor with weekly contributions from Leslie McGuffin, LL.B.

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