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PAT CULLEN: Let's makes Veterans Memorial Highway safer for all

Veterans Memorial Highway has served as the scene of multiple fatal accidents over the years. — Compass file photo
Veterans Memorial Highway has served as the scene of multiple fatal accidents in recent weeks. — Compass file photo

Since Sept. 11, five people have died on Veterans Memorial Highway.

The Compass reported in its Oct. 31 edition that within four years, from 2012-2016, 208 accidents occurred there. To say this is merely concerning would be an understatement.

North River resident Pauline Quinlan travels to and from Bay Roberts to her job in Mount Pearl five days a week. She is on the highway 30 minutes during peak hours — 6-9 a.m. and 3-6 p.m.

She describes the highway as having slow drivers, speeders, tailgaters and congested traffic with frustrated motorists travelling at speeds as low as 30 kilometres an hour in a 100-kilometre-an-hour zone because, at times, a long line of vehicles are stuck behind tractor trailers and other industrial machinery.

Quinlan online petition calling for improvements attracted 8,592 signatures in less than a month. The petition was presented to Premier Dwight Ball and Transportation Minister Steve Crocker.

While RCMP say speeding wasn’t a factor in the last few fatalities on the Veterans, Quinlanbelieves speed and lack of police presence are a problem. “It’s very, very, very rare (that) you’ll see any RCMP on that highway”, she said in an Oct. 25 interview. “It’s very disappointing, because they know that speed is a factor”.

She said they were parked there in the few days following the last two accidents, people knew it and slowed down, but since then, there’s been little presence during her travel times.

Spokespersons for the RCMP detachments in Bay Roberts and Harbour Grace as well as traffic services say their cars are on Veterans daily or almost daily. When asked if the highway was patrolled adequately, one officer in traffic services answered “as much as we can” while another said “unmarked cars,” which Quinlan may not recognize, patrol there.

Some RCMP say the main problem on Veterans appears to be distracted drivers. And while police may never be able to deter certain distractions, their presence would, we hope, prevent people from applying makeup or reading while trying to control a vehicle.

Glenn Clarke, the new chairperson of the Conception Bay North Joint Councils, supports Quinlan’s claims of inadequate policing on the highway. “I really don’t believe they have the resources where they can patrol that highway to the extent that’s required,” he said.

Const. Dave Bourden, an RCMP investigator and collision analyst, seems to want more police on the highway, as well.

“If we could get more members on that highway, I think it would help,” he said. “It would be the province that would have to allocate extra resources, moneys to the RCMP to have extra members within traffic services.”

Clarke, a Victoria town councillor, suggested government use Veterans for a year or two as “a pilot project” for a private highway patrol. The patrol could be composed of civilians such as security guards.

There are many problems with having civilians replace police. What powers would they have and who would train them? But his suggestion is indicative of the frustration felt when the safety of our highways is discussed-that they need to be safer and regular police just don’t have the cars and bodies to do it.

There are, of course, other areas where safety can be improved, through the construction of overpasses where traffic is heaviest, allowing motorists to enter or exit the highway more safely — a suggestion by Clarke and Carbonear Deputy Mayor Chris O’Grady.

The Jamie’s Way turnoff to Harbour Grace is one such example. Reducing speed limits has its merits, but an overpass would be better — costlier, but better. Installing passing lanes on hills is another good idea. RCMP are concerned that passing lanes would encourage people to speed — something Glenn Clarke describes as “a theory, but I don’t think a proven theory.”

It would solve the problem of frustrated motorists attempting to pass slow-moving traffic, especially when that frustration leads to drivers trying to pass when it’s not safe. The collisions, Bourden said, did not involve people attempting to pass.

Bourden is advocating for a campaign of education and enforcement to deal with bad driving habits. Government, for example, could do so much more. It could run advertisements on media outlets promoting good driving habits and show examples of the bad. This is not an area where we can afford to cut and that includes giving the RCMP more money to do the job better. Enough to place a highway patrol on Veterans would be ideal. Enforcement, he describes as “our members (spending) more time dealing with distracted driving. Oftentimes there’s x number of speeding tickets given out but there’s only y number of distracted driving tickets which is driving without due care and attention.”

There will always be the accidents we can do nothing about. But we can all do something about the accidents that are preventable. We can fasten our seat belts, drive according to the speed limit and road conditions, keep our eyes and minds on the road and respect the motorists who are travelling the highway with us.

Pat Cullen is a journalist and who lives in Carbonear. She can be reached at 596-1505 or cullen.pat1@gmail.com.

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