Two Canadian doctors are calling for improved measures when it comes to winter road safety to try to reduce the number of deaths in the country, and suggest we pale in comparison to the safety of other areas with similar weather.
“Each week more than a couple dozen Canadians get into their motor vehicle and do not emerge alive,” Dr. Donald Redelmeier, co-author of an editorial published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), said.
“Canada does not fare well compared with some countries that have snowy winters, with twice as many population-adjusted traffic deaths as Sweden,” reads the editorial. “This is unacceptable.”
Redelmeier and CMAJ deputy editor Dr. Diane Kelsall wrote adverse road conditions in cold weather contribute to about 12 per cent of traffic fatalities and injuries. The editorial suggests standards for winter road maintenance vary across the country, and drivers are likely unaware of such differences.
“In Alberta, short sections of ice and packed snow on major highways are considered acceptable and to be expected between the wheel paths and at the centre
line,” the authors wrote. “Because the standards also differ among cities and towns, a driver’s local experience is not an accurate predictor of winter conditions on unfamiliar roads.”
Redelmeier is a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, and a staff physician at Sunnybrook Hospital. He said part of the reason winter driving is a serious problem in Canada is because of the sheer size of our country.
“One of the reasons that it is such a problem is that our country has over almost one million kilometres of roadway,” he said.
“That’s greater than going from the Earth to the moon and back–it’s impossible to keep a surface of that size free of ice and snow and slush.”
He said compared to Sweden, Canadians are less likely to wear seatbelts, and also said Canadians drive “a little too quickly” as part of our lifestyle.
“If you are exiting your home 15 minutes late, do not try to make up for it by driving 15 minutes faster.”
Watch below: Global’s related coverage on tips for winter driving
The editorial said crashes around the year stem from factors under our control: “excessive speed, distraction, impairment and failure to wear seatbelts.”
“Add in snow, ice or slush, and the risk is higher,” it reads. “We may not install winter tires, may over-rely on modern technology or may fail to recognize that vehicle control is substantially affected by ice and snow. We may be overconfident in our driving ability or try to make up time lost because of traffic delays.”
The authors recommend a multifaceted approach to winter road safety from drivers, regulators and service providers.
The measures include:
• Stringent road maintenance standards tailored to local weather conditions
• Government oversight of road service companies to ensure adherence
• Mandatory legislation requiring winter tires in specific provinces, as in Quebec
• Seasonal speed limits and enforcement
• Public education about safe winter driving
“Be very aware of all the drivers around you who may not be quite as skilled and yet any one of them could change your life forever,” Redelmeier said.
He also pointed out one factor that improves road safety is the use of snowplows, but cautioned it’s a hazardous job where operators are at a “distinct risk.”
“Each year a few of them die or become seriously injured on the job,” he said. “So our recommendation there is please be patient with the snowplow operators on the roads.”
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