Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Tag: safety

Weekly Column: Driving is fun, but it comes with responsibilities

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday June 3, 2019.

The distance between my car and the one that swerved out of the lineup of cars waiting at a stop sign became very small, very fast. The driver had likely waited for a while (like everyone else in that long lineup waiting to turn right on 10th Ave. from Lorne St.) but his patience expired and he opted to break the line and turn left into incoming traffic. That was me, and the rest of the cars following. His maneuver was quick, and illegal too.

It was scary, though I was alone in the car. Had I not swerved the car to avoid impact, the passenger side would have been smashed quite badly. ‘What if’ is not a good question to have to ask while driving midday through town.

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Make Safety Part Of Your Outdoor Adventures

To say that winter cannot make up its mind this year would be an understatement. It’s been a weather seesaw of sorts since it first snowed in early November. Cold, snowy, warm, cold, snowy; repeat, or not.

There’s lots of shoveling to be done, but beauty to delight in too. If you drive out of town for snowshoeing, skiing, or hiking, the rewards are more than worth the effort, more so on a sunny day when snow-clad trees push against a sky so blue it takes your breath away.

Every year in winter, our family aims for at least one overnight hike, where we each carry our sleeping bags and sleeping pads, and use a sled for all the other supplies. It’s a good workout plodding through snow, but most of all, it is yet another opportunity to learn about nature and why playing it safe always make fun better.

From deciding on the time we start on the trail to the estimated time of arrival (ideally before dark, so we have time to set up and get everyone warm,) to deciding how much stuff we take and whether we have what we need in case we get stuck somewhere, to letting people know that we’re heading into the wilderness, and assessing weather but knowing that it can change without notice, it’s all there.

When we go to one of the now frozen lakes around Kamloops, the questions revolve around that: could we fall in? How long till you get hypothermia? Then, there is the conversation about avalanches, which has been on the news lately, as it is every year.

There is a low likelihood of avalanches where we take the boys, but not knowing the way very well or hiking too late in the day could still get one in serious trouble. These conversations are never about inducing fear of exploring. On the contrary. Healthy fear encourages learning more and preparing better, and knowing when to hold back when necessary.

We live in a time when the access to information about backcountry is but a click away, and there are countless stores in town and online selling equipment. Unfortunately, that is not enough. Somehow, more people find themselves in dire straits in the great outdoors.

The stats from all the search and rescue organizations in British Columbia show a worrying trend. The number of calls has increased over the years, and most organizations had a record number of rescue missions. In 2017, the Kamloops Search and Rescue (KSAR) volunteers were called on 49 searches (a 32 percent increase from 2016) with over 3,500 hours they put in (more than double compared to previous year.)

Particularly worrisome is that this trend is seen all across the province. The increase from last year seems to hover at 30 to 40 percent. To note: the searches are all conducted by volunteers and the organizations rely on donations, but without soliciting by phone. That’s a lot of heart right there, and willingness to help, considering that sometimes the volunteers’ lives are at risk. Especially commendable is not losing faith after discovering yet again that some people carry very few or no items that can increase their chances of survival, such as extra clothing, matches, water or food.

While the admiration for the search and volunteers is boundless, the question remains: How come that more people, and not just in one area, but throughout BC (possibly other parts of Canada) are in need of assistance, at a time when there is enough knowledge to make one’s journey as safe as possible through supply, route, risk assessment and overall trip planning?

It is always sad to turn on the radio or read the news only to find out that someone was yet again caught in an avalanche while snowmobiling (which sometimes they caused,) or got lost during a hike, or went out of bounds while skiing, snowboarding. Sadder yet is to hear they lost their lives.

Can we possibly hope that in 2018, the news, warnings, and word-of-mouth will lower the numbers of people who access the backcountry unprepared, no matter the season? Or that people will think twice before putting at risk not just their own lives but also those of the search and rescue volunteers? I would like to believe so.

As for the boundless admiration for all the search and rescue volunteers… Feelings are great, always, but not nearly enough. Everyone should consider helping by donating to the local SAR team (https://www.ksar.ca/donate-help-us-out/) – more so because they do not even entertain the thought of charging people, thinking that some would avoid calling for help.

Another way to help is volunteering, if possible (https://www.ksar.ca/join/). It is on my list of potential volunteering options once the boys are all grown-up. Until then, my husband and I will keep safety as part of the must-haves when our family heads out for adventures in the great outdoors.

Why Address Bad Driving

Initially published as a column in NewsKamloops on Friday March 11, 2016. 

It happened on March 2nd and it almost slipped under the radar. A tractor-trailer that was carrying diesel fuel crashed on Highway 16 in Mt. Robson Provincial Park, spilling at least 20,000 litres of its load into the Fraser River and the surrounding area.

Now, 20,000 litres is not insignificant. Since the full load was 50,000 litres, your guess is as good as mine as to how much might’ve actually spilled after all. A lot of it dissipated below detectable levels 24 kilometers or so from the accident site, according to the BC Ministry of Environment quoted by a local newspaper.

That is bad news, if only the big media would’ve made it so. Not to sensationalize, not to create fear but to raise an important question regarding road safety and one of the dreadful consequences of poor driving.

The Fraser River is the longest river in British Columbia, one of the most productive salmon rivers in the world and the site of the largest Sockeye run in the world. Hardly the place that a spill will leave no trace.

In general, diesel sinks quickly and cold temperatures make the cleanup more troublesome. Our iconic fish have been challenged lately by issues related to climate change, such as low water levels and warmer than usual water temperatures, which make them susceptible to diseases and parasites. Nature is resilient, we know that, yet over 20,000 litres of diesel fuel is no small thing on top of everything else. Time will tell.

There’s only that much crying we can do over spilled diesel though once an accident has happened. Any environmental incident deserves attention, and this one deserves more than it got, yet today’s column will focus more on what caused it rather than its ill effects.

It is believed that speed and early morning slippery road conditions were the reason for the above accident. An inquiry is under way.

Speed is nothing new unfortunately. I mentioned speeding tractor trailers in previous column. I have seen many going over the speed limit on various highways, some even tailgating and changing lanes as if the vehicle was a sports car rather than a heavy truck.

That some crash occasionally and disaster ensues is sad but predictable. Then again, poor driving is not reserved to trucks alone.

Getting behind the wheel is a huge responsibility and anything that increases the risk of an accident has to become the subject of discussion among all of us who drive, because of what is at stake. We have to do more before the worst happens.

A closer to home example: Tuesday evening around 6pm found me about to step out on the crosswalk at the intersection of Lansdowne and 4th. The pedestrian sign shone bright so I checked for cars and then I started to cross. The first car turning left (incorrectly so into the far right lane of the one way street) that almost ran me over seemed about to slow down and allow me to cross but then it didn’t. It came really close, hence the ‘almost’ part. I am no slow walker, so it made me wonder about people who walk slower by default such as the elderly or parents with young children.

I darted forward to avoid the car but found myself in front of a second car turning left (at least turning into the correct lane) that … well, almost hit me. A bit of a bad joke if you ask me. Between the first driver turning incorrectly into the more distant lane and the second turning into the correct one, there was barely any room to run for my life. If you’re wondering about the required eye contact with the driver, the answer is yes for the first car. Not that it helped much.

Sobering indeed. I had a similar experience in broad daylight at Lansdowne and 6th two years ago. Sadly, I am hardly alone. Just this month two teenagers were hit while on a crossing on Westsyde Road, and if you check local news archives, many pedestrians had close encounters especially on Lansdowne and many ended up being struck.

Whatever the cause of poor driving is, consequences can be and often are horrifying, which is why the discussion cannot be postponed. Whether speed, distracted driving due to cell phones, or impaired driving due to tiredness, drug or alcohol consumption, accidents keep happening and we have to find a way to prevent them.

How do we address this? As pedestrians we need to educate ourselves and our children about safe crossing. That will lower the risk but it does not eliminate it completely.

What about when we are behind the wheel? Reading through many documents discussing the issue of road safety, suggestions range from education of drivers through all means necessary, to enforcing speed limits on the highways and within city limits, to having adequate consequences for those found guilty rather a mere slap on the wrist. Consequences could include revoking a person’s right to drive temporarily or permanently, depending on the degree of harm caused.

Statistics alone (see below), though not as updated as they should be, can add numbers to facts.

  • From 2004 to 2008, 13 percent of fatalities in Canada have been pedestrians and out of all of them, 33 percent were struck by a driver who had committed a traffic infraction prior to the crash.
  • According to Transport Canada, over 20 percent of fatalities that occurred from 2001 to 2005 involved heavy commercial trucks.

Bottom line: no one gets on the road with the intention of causing an accident that could injure or kill people, or cause irreparable damage, so reminders about what our responsibilities as drivers are should be all over the place. Safe driving makes for a safe world. We all want that.

What do you think would make for safer driving in Kamloops?

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