Collisions and road closures

Hey, you'll know the answer to this, why are the police allowed to close the highway for so long to investigate a collision? I don't think that it should ever be closed for more than about an hour.

This question and opinion were presented to me after the last collision on the Malahat Highway when it was closed for six hours to investigate a two-vehicle collision that killed one person and seriously injured two others.

Due to the nature of the highway system, there are only two detours around the crash site. One is a small ferry that cannot move significant volumes of traffic and the other involves driving a considerable distance out of the way.

To get some idea of why the road can be closed for so long, let's look at a hypothetical collision. From the moment of the crash, the clock starts ticking.

Calls are made to emergency services. These days not a lot of time is wasted here as many people have cell phones and we have relatively good cellular phone service.

It takes time to get police, fire and ambulance to the scene and as they arrive, each service organizes and begins to do their jobs.

The police have to:

  • prevent the situation from becoming worse
  • preserve the scene as much as possible
  • gather evidence, identify witnesses.

If they are first on scene, they must provide necessary aid as well. They will most likely be at the scene for the duration of the incident.

The fire department may also be called on to prevent the situation from becoming worse.

They will:

  • stabilize vehicles
  • put out fires
  • disconnect vehicle batteries
  • try to minimize any other hazards that may threaten anyone at the scene.

The tricky task of extracting victims from damaged vehicles may be tedious and delicate. It's a balance of haste to preserve life and caution to not injure people further.

Ambulance paramedics support patients from the scene to the hospital. The erroneous perception of loading people into the ambulance and immediately screaming away does not do the reality justice.

It is not uncommon for paramedics to spend time at the scene stabilizing a patient so that they will survive the trip to hospital.

If an air ambulance is required, it can take time to call and arrive. In some cases, the only place it can land is on the highway at the scene.

Beyond the initial road closure to provide a safe working area for emergency services, permission of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is required to continue a closure.

Generally, the closure service is provide by the road maintenance contractor who arranges for a flagging company to assist them.

If setting up single lane traffic is required, it can take a long time to organize and execute.

Should a death occur, the scene now comes under the jurisdiction of the coroner, who must provide authorization before the scene is disturbed. It is not uncommon for the coroner to visit the scene before giving their authorization.

The collision that prompted this question was allegedly caused by an alcohol-impaired driver. This means the police are essentially now conducting a homicide investigation because that driver was not the fatality.

Society and the court system has expectations that the police conduct a thorough investigation.

This too can take a significant amount of time depending on how complicated the scene turns out to be.

All of these minutes can add up to quite a delay when you are sitting in your vehicle waiting to continue your journey.

The ubiquitous video camera feeds news services and social media today. These videos often show emergency personnel standing around at a crash scene, appearing to be doing nothing.

Generally, this is far from the truth, as in my experience, they are most likely waiting for one step to be completed before they can carry on with their job.

The time taken does need to be balanced according to everyone's needs and the requirements of the law. What price and responsibility do we put on a death or serious injury? Your comments are welcome.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/collisions/collisions-and-road-closures


Ready to stop driving?

Thoughts on the Decision to Stop Driving

We have built our world around the convenience of the motor vehicle. Without one, our focus suddenly becomes much more narrow.

Are you prepared to cope with the decision to stop driving when the time comes?

I ask this question after watching a significant change for part of my family. My in-laws decided that the family home of 52 years was too much for them and made the move to a seniors complex.

My father-in-law suggested that they had been considering this for about two years, but once the decision had been made, the transition occurred too quickly.

They found a new seniors complex that suited them and had space available. Once their home was listed for sale, it sold almost immediately and the move to the complex was complete 30 days later.

They both found the change very stressful. A lifetime of possessions suddenly had to be divided into three categories:

  • keep
  • redistribute
  • throw away and dealt with quickly.

A new home had to be occupied and adjusted to as well.

My mother-in-law had the most difficulty and made the decision to stop driving on her own initiative. Fortunately, my father-in-law still drives and their facility provides transport to a nearby shopping centre once a week.

Following the advice of her children, she chose to retain her driver's licence rather than surrendering it as she had first intended.

I really hope that this works out well for them once they get over the shock.

Life often does not leave you with choices and planning is much better than procrastination.

A driver examiner told me in conversation once that it was fairly common for older men who failed a retest to hop in the car and drive home after surrendering their licence.

Thank goodness they made it there safely as they would not be covered by insurance if they caused a crash on that trip.

Younger people are not exempt either. I stopped a middle-aged woman one morning as her driving made her appear to be an alcohol-impaired driver. Conversation quickly established that she was sober, but suffered from physical health issues.

I convinced her to park the car and let me drive her back home as no one she knew was available to help her.

I felt very awkward in the situation and as we pulled into her driveway I complimented her on her home as a way of making conversation.

"Yes," she said, "it's a pretty nice prison, isn't it?"

Somewhere between capable and incapable lies an area where the driver still performs adequately in some circumstances. Applying restrictions to their driver's licence permits some mobility while reducing the chance of causing a crash. Graduated De-Licensing if you will.

This is where ICBC operates in conjunction with health professionals, police, family and friends. However, for it to be successful, ICBC must know of the driver's difficulties either through reports or periodic medical examinations.

HealthLinkBC provides advice to help make the decision as well.

According to the Office of the Seniors Advocate of BC, more work needs to be done in support of seniors mobility. The advocate has recommended a new program called “Community Drives” that would be administered under the existing home support program.

I suspect that no one really wants to grow old and stop driving much less spend the time planning for it. However, a little time spent in advance can make that transition much less stressful.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/older-drivers/thoughts-decision-stop-driving

Little things; big differences

I've been riding as a passenger in heavy traffic this past week and have had time to watch and think about what is going on around me.

There are many small things that a driver should do out of habit to minimize their chances of being involved in a collision.

In no particular order of importance, here are my suggestions.

Signal!  The bulbs are good for more than three or four blinks too. Nothing tells others what you would like to do better than a well used signal light lever. There are polite drivers out there who will actually see your signal and help you accomplish what you want to do.

When you stop in traffic, you should see pavement between the front edge of your hood and the bottoms of the back tires of the vehicle in front of you. If you don't, you are too close.

The extra space may prevent you from being pushed into the vehicle in front of you if your vehicle is hit from behind. It also gives you room to move if an emergency vehicle approaches.

Stop before the sidewalk when you are entering a street, not on top of it. Pedestrians really appreciate your consideration.

Maintain an appropriate following distance for the conditions. When you do this, you control your own safety margin and, to some extent, that of the driver behind you. They will have more time to realize that something is happening and can then avoid colliding with you.

Leave yourself an out, especially around heavy commercial vehicles. Having a space to move into on your left or right if something happens may mean avoiding a crash.

Use some lane discipline. You are entitled to one lane and have to stay between the lines of that lane.

If you don't know where you are going, stop and figure it out. Better still, plan before you leave. If you don't have GPS in your vehicle, cellphone or tablet, the internet is full of useful resources.

Don't commit random acts of driving by ignoring traffic controls when you decide you've chosen incorrectly.

Remember that there are drivers behind you who will become impatient and try to pass. Pull over, stop, let them by and then continue at reduced speed as you try to locate the address you are trying to find.

Scan around and well ahead of your vehicle. Preparation is preferable to surprise.

Early detection of obstructions ahead allow you to plan to avoid them rather than react in a place where you may not have a choice.

Anticipate the traffic lights. Braking lightly and coasting to a stop saves wear and tear on your vehicle. Aside from being safer, it also saves you money on maintenance and fuel.

Screaming up to the red light and braking heavily at the last second invites the driver behind you to join you in a collision, especially if they are not paying attention or are momentarily focused elsewhere.

If another driver insists on infringing on your right of way, let them have it. It's better to maintain as much control of the situation as you are able to rather than insist on being part of the incident.

None of these things are difficult to do and are simple habits to develop. The choice to be safe is always yours.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/behaviour/little-things-can-make-big-differences


Conflict over right of way

Right of way is given, not taken.

Please read that again and think about what it means when applied to driving, cycling and walking.

A sense of entitlement is not what you should have when you use our highways, regardless of your travel mode.

A video was provided by the cyclist and reported on by CTV Vancouver. (Check https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/right-way/conflict-over-right-way for the link.)

It shows the cyclist using the cycle lane approaching an intersection on a right curve where there is limited visibility.

A car on the right is attempting to make a left turn after stopping at a stop sign and encroaches on the cycle lane as the cyclist comes into view. The sun appears to be directly behind the cyclist and may be interfering with the driver's ability to see.

The cyclist moves to the left to go around the car. The driver fails to see the cyclist and begins to make the left turn. 

A collision results.

The discussion on CTV's Twitter account is mixed. Some lay the blame with the cyclist and others feel that it is the driver's fault. All seem polarized in a situation that contains shades of grey.

First, let's establish where the cyclist fits into the road rules. Section 183(1) MVA imposes the same rights and duties as the driver of a vehicle on the cyclist.

For the most part, this means that the cyclist must behave as if they were a driver. It also means that other drivers must treat the cyclist the same way as they would another motor vehicle.

Now, let's examine this intersection with a two-way stop.

Our car driver must stop properly at the stop sign.

Having stopped, the driver must yield to the cyclist (and any other traffic present on the through highway) that is either in the intersection or approaching it closely enough to be an immediate hazard.

The driver may now proceed with caution.

As the car comes into the cyclist's view, it appears to be stopped and then moves ahead slowly.

Here's where the grey begins and many drivers and cyclists on the through street do not realize that they may have a duty to yield to this driver and let them enter the street.

Section 175(2) MVA imposes this duty.

Now, take up your gavel and put yourself in the position of a judge having to decide liability for this collision.

You have the rules set out in the Motor Vehicle Act and established case law to guide you along with the information gained from the video.

Both the driver and the cyclist will present their side and you may also hear from witnesses.

One witness may be an expert at collision reconstruction who will tell you that it is possible that the cyclist could not have seen the emerging driver in time to stop when riding at 40 km/h.

In my own humble opinion, there is some liability on both sides for this collision and I base that only on what I see in the video and the MVA rules.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/right-way/conflict-over-right-way

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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