Of the myriad of issues that can give rise to injuries and civil lawsuits, by far the most prevalent are those cases relating to motor vehicle collisions. In Canada, approximately 160,000 car accidents happen each year. The number of motor vehicle accidents was trending downward in 2019, the most recent year for which Transport Canada provides data. Drivers and their passengers consistently account for approximately 65 per cent of all serious injuries and fatalities in motor vehicle collisions, while pedestrians and cyclists represent 15 per cent of those injured or killed. The same data from Transport Canada indicates that highway fatalities and serious injuries had steadily declined over the previous two decades.
Nonetheless, at least one Canadian province, Ontario, reported an increase in road fatalities in 2021. Even if this trend proves to be an anomaly, it would be impossible to understate the profound impacts of highway collisions on the lives of those involved, as well as the entire country. Federal government data illustrates that the burden of motor vehicle collisions on the public healthcare system is significant.
In Canada, economic losses caused by traffic collision-related health care costs and lost productivity are at least $10 billion annually. This represents about 1 per cent of Canada’s annual Gross Domestic Product.
While it seems that governments and organizations have made significant strides in improving road safety and raising awareness of risk factors, the dangers inherent in operating motor vehicles on Canada’s roads and highways persist. Being aware of the risks, and taking precautions to prepare for and avoid them, is something that all users of Canada’s roads need to do.
A 2021 study conducted by an international online insurance policy comparison platform indicated that a full one-quarter of all the motor vehicle crashes in Alberta result from distracted driving. There are countless possible distractions that a driver can face while operating a motor vehicle, and since cell phones and other personal electronic devices have become ubiquitous, the risks have become greater.
Because of the attention distracted driving relating to cell phone use received in the 2010s, Alberta was one of the first provinces to enact specific legislation prohibiting distracted driving in 2011.
Alberta has also been proactive in educating road users about proactive strategies to avoid distracted driving-related incidents. Some helpful tips provided on the provincial government’s website include:
- Put your phone away – Only use your cellphone when your vehicle is parked in a safe place. If your phone rings while driving, have a passenger take the call or let it go to voicemail.
- Stay calm – Avoid emotional conversations with passengers, which can lead to distraction and unsafe behaviours. If you are using a hands-free cell to speak with someone, make sure they know you may need to hang up or interrupt the conversation to react to road conditions.
- Keep your hands on the wheel – Never take notes or read while driving. Park in a safe place before writing things down or referring to a map.
- Pullover as needed – If you need to attend to your kids or pets while driving, find a safe spot to park first.
- Plan ahead – Use program electronics like phones and GPS units before driving. If you are in a rental car, make sure to find the radio stations you want to listen to before heading out.
Speed Can Kill
The second highest risk factor for a motor vehicle collision is driving excessively. Over the past 30 years, advancements in automotive design have not only made driving safer (think airbags, impact beams, reverse cameras, and the like). Still, they have resulted in even lower-end cars having speed capabilities that a few short years ago would have been unimaginable.
The correlation between the speed at which a collision takes place and the severity of injuries that drivers, passengers, and other road users sustain is unquestionable. In May 2021, a private members bill was introduced in Alberta that, if passed, would increase the maximum speed from 100 kilometres per hour on major highways in Alberta by 20 kilometres per hour. Currently, only British Columbia’s Coquihalla Highway posts a limit as high as 120 kph.
Considering the psychology behind speed is one way to re-focus a driver’s attention on the need to exercise restraint when behind the wheel. It can be easy to forget when driving how much work goes into moving a vehicle, its occupants and cargo, when simply applying a foot to a pedal with increasing force can significantly affect it. As cars have evolved and engines have also become quieter, it has become more difficult for drivers, particularly new ones, to perceive the speeds at which vehicles are moving. Science suggests that this disconnect is behind the ever-increasing numbers of speed-related collisions that happen every year and that continuing to sell motor vehicles with speedometers that show speeds that greatly exceed any jurisdiction’s maximums may be partly to blame. The wise driver should remember that, despite how much motor vehicles have advanced, the human body remains as vulnerable to injury as ever.
Winter Weather Driving
In a country where much of the geography is snow-covered for at least half of the year, it is unsurprising that weather-related motor vehicle collisions are a major source of road injuries and fatalities. Smart drivers remember to slow down when the weather turns icy, and limited visibility. Still, there are other helpful ways to reduce the odds of having a weather-related crash and to best address the situation if a winter collision occurs:
- Winter tires: Although not mandatory under Alberta law, winter tires provide better grip than regular or all-season tires because of their unique materials and tread patterns. Should there be a law? Statistics relating to motor vehicle collisions in Quebec, before and after a law came into force requiring vehicles to be equipped with winter tires, reflected a three per cent decline in accident-related injuries.
- Clearing snow from vehicles: Each year, police departments and news outlets remind drivers at the first snowfall of the importance of clearing snow and ice from their vehicles to not only ensure drivers have an unobstructed view of the road but because snow and ice can become dislodged as a vehicle moves and become a projectile, capable of devastating damage to another vehicle or serious injury to a pedestrian.
- Practicing safe winter driving: Not many experienced drivers give thought to take a refresher course once in a while, but it is something to consider for those who do not spend a significant amount of time behind the wheel. In today’s extremely variable climate, even those who drive every day can spend years without confronting a significant snowfall and may forget the safe driving tips they learned in preparation for a first driver’s test. For reluctant students, considering the mechanism of steering out of a skid through internet research is at least a start.
Calgary Lawyers Representing Those Who Have Been Injured or Who Have Lost Loved One Due To Car Accidents
At Cuming & Gillespie LLP, we represent those injured or who have lost loved ones in car accidents. We value the responsibility of acting for these individuals and understand the importance of getting compensation to help rebuild their lives and provide the best quality of life possible. Call us today at 403-571-0555 or use our online contact form to schedule a meeting.