It is mid-afternoon on Tuesday, March 20, 2012.
The roads are dry.
A 56 year old man is riding his motorcycle eastbound on Highway 97 in Kelowna. His wife is his passenger.
Highway 97 traffic is stopped for a red light at the Cooper Road intersection. The motorcycle pulls up and stops behind the topped traffic, directly behind a white work van.
Witnesses believe the driver of the SUV was on his cell phone. There has to be some explanation for his failure to notice that the traffic has stopped.
The SUV smashes into the back of the motorcycle, propelling it into the back of, and underneath the work van.
The 56 year old motorcycle rider is killed.
The widow reportedly suffers serious, but not life threatening, injuries. We don’t know how long and extensive her path to recovery will be, nor whether or not she will ever fully recover.
A Kelowna family has been ripped apart. We know that the couple on the motorcycle has at least one child – a reporter tried to interview their son at the scene. Are there others? Are there grandchildren? Are the deceased’s parents still alive?
According to Castanet, the motorcycle rider is the seventh person killed in a motor vehicle crash in the Central Okanagan this year. Seven local families have been ripped apart so far this year by vehicle crash fatalities.
Fatalities are the tip of the iceberg. The approximately 650 people who have been injured in Kelowna so far in 2012 haven’t made the news. A substantial portion of them will never fully recover from their injuries.
I base that on the ICBC Community Snapshot for Kelowna that says that approximately 2,700 people are injured in car crashes in Kelowna every year, which is a rate of approximately one injury every three hours and 15 minutes.
It is easy to demonize the SUV driver who paid so little attention to the road ahead of him that he smashed into a stopped line of traffic.
It is clear from the statistics, though, that the SUV driver is a symptom of a much larger problem.
Drivers regularly smash into the back of stopped lines of traffic. Other, similarly senseless, crashes occur all the time because drivers are not focusing their attention on their driving.
We don’t hear about all those crashes because if our news media were to report on all crash injuries, there would be no air time for anything else.
Perhaps we need to hear about them all. The periodic fatality reporting isn’t helping us, as a driving public, to look in the mirror and make a change.
I have a good friend who we could model ourselves after. Jess has been the butt of jokes because of her driving “paranoia”. Do you remember that “10 and 2” rule you learned way back when you first started driving? She drives with her hands at “10 and 2” 100% of the time.
She is so focused on the road in front of her, she won’t recognize a friend standing on the sidewalk. Billboard advertisers are wasting their money when it comes to this lady.
I doubt that the physical positioning of our hands on the wheel would make any practical difference to our driving proficiency. Perhaps, though, it would help us remember how important it is to focus our attention on driving and we would pay more attention.
That’s all it takes. The 56 year old would still be alive today if the SUV driver had simply been paying attention.
Give it a try. I am going to. I expect I’ll find it somewhat uncomfortable and a bit of a pain in the butt, but if it will help us focus on the critically important task at hand it will be worth it.
Published March 29, 2012 in the Kelowna Capital News