The 'vaccine' is available; it's called 'responsible behavior.' The clinics are the vehicles we drive every day. All we have to do to prevent most collisions is make sure we get behind the wheel only after a healthy dose of common sense.
It sounds a little silly, doesn't it? But the comparison is very accurate. Like any other health risk, vehicle collisions have a cost in lives, human suffering, and dollars. Last year in western Canada, over 1,000 people died, and more than 73,000 were injured in vehicle crashes. Seven out of ten fatal collisions happened on dry roads under good conditions.
If a virus were causing this destruction, every available doctor would be working to find a cure. We would all be terrified of catching this horrible disease. We would do everything in our power to make sure our family and friends didn't become infected with this deadly condition. Unfortunately, instead of responding with a healthy fear for the 'disease' of vehicle crashes, many people simply accept the risk. It is like working in a plague ward without ever washing your hands. Sooner or later, you are going to catch it, or pass it on to someone else.
Leona Nolin was 22 years old when she and her son Mitchell, four months, were killed in a collision with a drunk driver. No one would argue that their needless deaths are a tragedy, but for most of us, the impact ends when we move on to the next news story of the day. For Brent Nolin and his surviving children, the same headline has been front page for more than 14 years. Brent lives every day with the memory of his wife and son, and the ghosts of their happy young family. His son Blayne was only three at the time of the crash. Byron was not quite two. Blayne sustained only minor injuries. Byron suffered many fractures and a head injury that left him in intensive care for four days. The driver of the other vehicle died at the scene, leaving behind his own wife and young children.
The physical wounds have healed, emotional damage has faded, and life goes on. Brent has remarried. He and wife Mayme just celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary. The boys are 15 and 17 now, growing and healthy. Brent says he sees Leona in them often, and she lives on in Blayne's smile and Byron's good-natured teasing. They look at photographs together and Brent shares stories he hopes will give them some sense of their mother and younger brother. No matter how hard he tries, he can't keep the memories alive for his sons.
Brent's experience has led him down a unique path. He has had plenty of time and reason to think about what he would say to the drivers on our roads. Brent cautions, "Sometimes we get pretty selfish in our thinking. We forget that there are people out there who are more precious than we are. Then we start thinking, 'We can get away with it.' But, sometime, we might not! We need to be smarter, and start thinking about the next person."
The human cost of motor vehicle collisions is impossible to calculate. You can't reduce people's lives to simple numbers. However, we can do the math on the dollar costs. According to the Alberta Motor Association - a partner in the Mission Possible Traffic Safety Initiative - the cost to society of vehicle crashes last year in Alberta was more than $3.8 billion. To put this figure into perspective, that is more than ten million dollars every single day of the year just in crash expenses. When you apply this kind of math to all of Canada, the reality of the cost and the potential for savings, is staggering.
There's no way to gauge the positive impact of the good drivers on our roads. We can't keep a tally of lives saved and families spared by the actions of considerate and intelligent motorists. That makes it pretty tough to give ourselves credit for traveling at the posted speed limit, stopping for yellow lights, or not taking that cell phone call while behind the wheel. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of opportunities to see what happens when we don't take these simple steps to responsible and safe driving.
By definition, an accident is an event where no responsibility can be assigned. Vehicle collisions are not accidents. Referring to such an event as an 'accident' helps to remove the sense of responsibility the at-fault driver should have. In fact, a car crash is often the result of irresponsible behaviour taken to the extreme. Is a call on the cell phone worth an arm or a leg? Is beating a yellow light really so important that you would kill for it, or die for it? The harsh reality is that drivers often put insignificant things above the value of human life.
It is widely acknowledged that drinking and driving is an unforgivable act, but only one in four fatal collisions involves a drunk driver. In most of the crashes on our roads, alcohol is not a factor. These incidents come about through excess speed, not paying attention, poor judgment, and other circumstances within the driver's control. It is time for all of us to start accepting the responsibility that comes with the privilege of driving.
Safe driving is a relatively simple matter. Most people are capable of obtaining a driver's license. Licensed drivers have demonstrated their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. By getting behind the wheel, we agree to follow a set of rules that will keep us all safe. When we bend those rules, we break our contract with every other person on the road. We take chances with other people's lives.
According to Dr. Gerry Predy, the Medical Officer of Health for Alberta's Capital Health region, "Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the number one cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24. Many of these collisions could be prevented with a little common sense and more caution on the part of everyone on the road."
Provincial statistics for 2000 would seem to support Dr. Predy's statements, with 362 dead and more than 26,000 injured.
"I am convinced that many of these collisions could be prevented if more people followed the rules of the road and were more attentive when they are driving," Dr. Predy says.
Every time we climb into our vehicles, we have an opportunity to make our roads safer. Both our attitude and our actions can make a difference. Start saving lives by developing safe driving habits and becoming a defensive driver. Don't just watch what is happening; think about what could happen. Take steps to help reduce the number of motor vehicle collisions on our roadways. Then give yourself a pat on the back. You will have earned it! Just ask Brent Nolin and his kids.
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