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?