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LETTER: Tailgating needs more attention

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 over the years. — Compass file photo

I am watching with interest the frequent reports of accidents on the Veterans Memorial Highway and the apparent mounting public concern as a result.

The RCMP's Operation Impact over the Thanksgiving weekend covered roadways across the province. Your paper reported the overall stats for a number of violations. It indicates that a disturbing 20 per cent of the more than 3,000 drivers checked were issued tickets for speeding.

I have my doubts about this figure representing the true numbers. But to stick with those in the article, we see that speeding/aggressive driving is around 75 per cent of the total violations. These stats are certainly concerning.

However, for present purposes, I wish to draw attention to the single violation — out of 843 — that was recorded for tailgating, or as labeled in the article "following too closely." It is my conviction that enforcement officers are not nearly as vigilant as needed nor sufficiently aggressive in stopping and ticketing such offences.

On taking up residence in Conception Bay North a year ago, I very quickly noted the frequency of hazardous driving throughout the region. While there is no end of comment about the problem of excessive speeds and distracted driving due to cellphone use (along with complaints about pavement rutting and the need for third lanes for passing on the VMH), almost no mention is made in media of the issue of tailgating — pervasive, extreme tailgating. It is so pervasive that I have witnessed on a number of occasions RCMP vehicles falling in line with this life threatening behavior.

I spent a decade living in Doha, Qatar, which regularly reports among the highest number of accidents and related fatalities per capita in the world. One of the most dangerous habits of Doha drivers is habitual tailgating regardless of speed, often excessive even by Middle East norms.

Further exacerbating matters is the all too common use of cellphones while driving (note: research confirms that 'hands-free' phone use is equally hazardous). What I see every day in this region, accounting for the population difference, is beginning to resemble Doha on all counts. Add to this lethal mix of accident contributors the coming legalization of marijuana, there is even greater reason for concern.

All agencies with a stake in reducing traffic injuries and fatalities, including the insurance companies, should implement a pervasive and assertive campaign that alerts drivers to the dangers of this illegal practice, whatever we choose to call it. Such a campaign should begin with pointing out exactly what constitutes tailgating. Indeed, it is as if most drivers don't actually know. Safe driving instructors must emphasize the message.

Those guilty of tailgating, especially where it is the cause of an accident, should suffer legal consequences. Enforcement officers must provide the model of responsible driving in this regard. At the same time they should be watchful for tailgaters and aggressively enforce the rule against "following too closely." Surely, radar is able to calculate the distance between two or more vehicles. Finally, to be an effective deterrent and to save lives, any penalty issued needs to be substantial.

If such initiatives are implemented, my travel between communities in this area and between my home and St. John's may become much less stressful. And perhaps we would see fewer senseless tragedies on our roads.

— Kevin Pittman writes from Salmon Cove

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