Yellowhead should be at top of Vision Zero

Accident on Yellowhead near Kamloops.

Accident on Yellowhead near Kamloops.

I sometimes hear people say the Yellowhead Highway hasn’t changed since Phil Gaglardi built it 60 years ago. It’s a challenging drive, and has taken a terrible toll in human lives.

A new road-safety report from the provincial government isn’t specific about which B.C. highways are the worst for accidents but the Yellowhead certainly comes to mind as one of them.

The report is called Moving to Vision Zero: Road Safety Strategy Update and Showcase of Innovation in British Columbia.

“Vision Zero” started in Sweden in 1997 with the objective of improving highways systems to the point there are no fatalities or serious injuries.

Of course, that’s impossible, but it recognizes that while human factors play a major role in crashes, highways can be designed to reduce the impact of driving error.

The province says more than 40 road safety experts, including police, health officials, non-profits, road safety groups and others combined their expertise to come up with B.C.’s version of Vision Zero.

As the statement accompanying the B.C. report says, “The strategy highlights the application of the safe systems approach – understanding that road safety developments must account for the inevitability of human error, limitations of the human body in withstanding force, and the responsibility of road and vehicle designers, policy makers and road users for road safety.”

The Yellowhead is in the news much too often for the wrong reasons.

Last month, a Clearwater man was killed when he lost control on slushy roads and collided with a semi. In December, a multi-vehicle accident injured several people, one critically.

Last summer, a two-vehicle crash near Blackpool sent several people to hospital. The previous year, two pickup trucks collided just north of Rayleigh. One driver was killed and several people were taken to RIH. I saw that one, and it was terrible.

Through the years, there have been many such tragedies. Who will ever forget the loss of two popular Clearwater teachers in December 2012 when their car slid off the road and plunged into the North Thompson River?

According to one report, there were 261 accidents on the stretch from Kamloops to just south of Heffley Creek between 2009 and 2013.

Province wide, there were 83 fatal accidents and 2,631 serious injuries in 2014.

Last October, I attended an open house in Barriere that unveiled plans for new passing lanes at Vinsulla and Darfield.

The two-km. Vinsulla piece is expected to go to tender later this year. It’s relatively straight, but busy, with an average of 5,300 vehicles a day and up to 7,000 during summer. Between 2010 and 2014 there were five collisions there.

It’s not practical to expect an entire highway to be reconstructed at once but the Yellowhead should be a priority, and the addition of passing lanes is a good step.

The objective of the province’s Vision Zero is to make B.C.’s highways the safest in North America. It will take some doing to bring the Yellowhead into that category but reducing accidents on that highway is a must.

Let’s put the Yellowhead at the top of the Vision Zero list.

I wrote the above column for the Sun Peaks Independent News.


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