Monday, April 17, 2006

Construction Versus Policing

There has been a lot of noise about twinning Highway 101 from Halifax to Yarmouth and as we all know, we are well on our way to twinning as far as Windsor. We are spending a great deal of public money to construct new highway. See this news release, and the Cement Association's comment about costs. It is working out to about 1.4 million per kilometer, and whether those are federal or provincial dollars doesn't really matter.

There are quite a few reasons I can think of to twin the highway:
  • improvement of the transportation infrastructure
  • improve the tourist's experience of Nova Scotia
  • public safety; fewer deaths per mile.
We've heard much about the "Highway of Death" from the news media. They pounce on every opportunity to be melodramatic about traffic deaths and how they were preventable if only the highway had been twinned. The provincial Department of Highways Operational and Safety Review doesn't bear this out at all. Section 6.3 contains data from accident investigations and head-ons and sideswipes from the opposite direction account for only 9.1% of the accidents. The largest is 'run off the road' at 28.3% but the stats don't say how they were run off the road. Surely some of that is by oncoming traffic. By far the greatest contributing factors are slippery surfaces, animal action and inattention. Here is the table:

Table 6.3 - Percentages of Accidents by Type and Contributing Factors

Accident Type - Percent of All Accidents
  • Run off road - 28.3
  • Struck object - 18.2
  • Rear end - 10.0
  • Passing - 3.5
  • Head-on - 5.3
  • Side swipe, opposite direction - 3.8
Contributing Factors - Percent of All Accidents
  • Inattention/distraction - 16.8
  • Fell asleep/fatigue - 5.7
  • Inexperience/confusion - 4.2
  • Impaired/had been drinking - 4.4
  • Too fast for conditions - 3.9
  • Failure to yield - 1.3
  • Hydroplaning - 3.3
  • Slippery surface - 23.9
  • Animal action - 18.9
Note that the contributing factors are in many cases anecdotal from interviews by police officers with accident victims. Pretty easy to blame speeding or inattention on the well-known deer or porcupine, or to claim an impossible to avoid four wheel skid, despite the driver's heroic attempts to..... well, you get the picture.

For another view on twinning Highway 101, Larry Hughes has an excellent analysis at Highway 101 - Environmentally Sustainable Alternatives. He is very perceptive about the cost of oil and how it affects public travel. Whether there is any value in establishing a commuter rail link to Windsor sort of depends on what the commuter can expect for public transport at the Halifax end. It does seem a shame to me to rip out good railroad infrastructure when the price of oil is making truck based shipping so very expensive. Canada is all about transportation and communications, but we aren't very smart about moving people or goods. Just remember, "if you got it, a truck brought it". Everything you touch or eat or drink costs more when oil goes up. Ripping out cheap rail transport somehow seems counter-productive, doesn't it?

RCMP constables are paid $70,366.00 per year and if we factor in the cost of pensions, healthcare, shift differential, equipment and what have you, I'd venture to say that it probably costs about $140,000.00 per RCMP constable per year, on the highway and enforcing traffic laws. I drive that highway and there are very few traffic police out there. For the cost of one kilometer of twinned highway, we could have ten constable/years of traffic enforcement. Incidentally, do you know what makes people slow down and mind their manners on the highway? It's traffic accidents, police action and weather conditions. It doesn't take too many folks pulled over for speeding or vehicle safety inspections to lower the speed to the posted limit. Lower speeds, fewer accidents, fewer deaths, and it's cost effective. We just need a few more constables.

I'm not sure about you, reader, but I've often wished I could call the highway traffic police and report dangerous situations and homicidal drivers. If there was a number posted on the highway that travelers could call on their cell phones, it would help a lot. As it is now, when we travel the highway, we know no one is watching, so it's a free for all. If you knew that guy you're tailgating could call the cops and get action, would you do it? Don't think so.

Speaking about cell phones and drivers, it needs to be illegal to operate a motor vehicle while talking on a cell phone. That figure of 16.8 percent for inattention/distraction is pretty much all cell phones. It is a very big number and it needs to stop now.

If the province wants to twin the highway, they should do it for the right reasons and they should be open and honest about what the reasons are. Simply having some talking head on TV pushing for "twinning the highway of death" is idiotic. It is legislation and action simply to keep the noise down. This is a representative democracy. It means that elected officials need to have the guts to make the correct decision for valid reasons; to explain their actions and to rally the public;

to lead, in other words.


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