(I want to warn you about reading this story. There is a responsibility that goes with awareness and once you have read this you can not shrug your shoulders and go on with your day thinking nothing can be done.)
I was shocked last week when there was a news story that said there had been forty-six fatalities in Saskatchewan this year and it seems to be the driving season, as I have been down to the Southeast corner of the province last week and this, in between made a trip into Regina and tonight I am off to Kelliher and back. Certainly some of Saskatchewan's roads are a little tough from the large amount of spring run off and rain, but just driving up and down Saskatchewan's highways, I saw nothing that would explain forty-six people killed in this province of less than a million people.
So last week I called up the detachment to talk to the officer in charge of traffic and he corrected me, explaining that there had not been forty-four but forty-six deaths this year. We needed to arrange to meet and discuss the causes and on Friday the number had grown to forty-seven. Yesterday, when we talked on the lawn in front of the detachment another had been added to this list and last night two more people died near Lampman bring this year's total up to fifty. That's six more than when I first began wondering about this story.
(I wanted you hear directly from the officer but unfortunately I have a silent movie of the interview as a microphone battery gave out in the first seconds of the interview. But he's a busy man and I did not want to have him take the time out of his work schedule to re shoot the clip so you will have to just on what I remember from the explanation he gave.)
I had heard on the news story that perhaps it was that Saskatchewan people are not wearing their seat belts as they once did and but it turns out that in Saskatchewan cities the rate of seat belt wearing is a remarkable 95%, but out in the country that rate is often below 50%.
The real shocker is what caused these high numbers of deaths. Though there are bound to be collisions and mishaps with motor vehicles, the majority of these deaths in Saskatchewan are as a result of single vehicle roll-over accidents. Accidents where a driver loses control of a vehicle on a rural road and flips over. Two factors come into play; most of these single vehicle events are caused by loss of control because the driver is driving under the influence of alcohol, but even that would not explain the loss of life. To make matters worse, drivers in rural Saskatchewan, particularly ones who have been drinking, very often are not wear a seat belt and they are ejected from their vehicle and the results is tragic and completely predictable, not only that, completely preventable.
So now you know, what are you going to do about it? That is what struck me last week when I thought through this problem. I realised immediately that since I know about it I am responsible for more deaths if I do nothing. More importantly, the officer in charge of traffic is doing what he can, as are his colleagues across the province, but their work is in enforcement and my work, and your work, is in prevention.
Let's work this problem out one step at a time.
- The first thing we have to overcome is accepting this horrific lose of life. It is not part of the modern world, it is not a cultural thing, it is quite simply people doing something that is killing them and hurting each and every family in the province. We all suffer from the loss of a person in our communities and not one life should ever be shrugged off.
- The second thing we have to do is focus on ourselves and make sure that we are setting a good example. Buckle up that seat belt even if you are just idling out of the yard. You don't drive around with the doors hanging open, so don't drive around with your body not affixed to your seat, within the safety of your vehicle. Below 48km little harm can befall anyone in a modern vehicle with the seatbelt fastened.
- The third thing is alcohol. The use of alcohol has been around since human life began and provided you are sitting down, being a little tipsi is not really all that dangerous. But even the slightest impairment, less than what is declared illegal, will reduce your capacity to handle the controls of a car, or truck. Don't ever cheat yourself and by your example, others will see that the right thing is to ride, not drive if you have been drinking, even a small amount. Keep in mind that a single bottle of beer in the body of a 115 pound woman is going to put her over the legal limit.
- So now that you have yourself straightened out, you wear your seat belt and don't drive after having been drinking. What more can you do? This is not nearly as tough a problem as it seems. Show others about you that they are important to you, that you care for them and could never handle them being a fatality in a single car accident. Remind, encourage and reward with your affection, your friends and relatives : " WEAR THE SEAT BELTS, DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT DRIVING IF YOU ARE GOING TO DRINK, CALL ME, I WILL COME AND GET YOU NO QUESTIONS ASKED, ANY TIME OF THE DAY OR NIGHT, I WANT YOU TO STAY ALIVE AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE."
Fifty people in this province since January will not get to see the fireworks on July first, cheer for the Riders, go to a Trojan game, savour an ice cream cone or laugh at a joke ever again. No, that's not the way it should be.