Along with the rest of Saskatchewan, there has been a substantial increase in the number of fatal collisions on highways in southeast Saskatchewan. Throughout the province, there have been 22 fatal collisions in the past two months – six of those in southeast Saskatchewan. With the province’s RCMP responding to a fatal collision roughly every 2.5 days since September 1st, this is a sharp increase from the first eight months of the year, where there were a total of 36 fatal collisions.
“Over the last few years’ we’ve seemed to always get a little bit of an increase in fatal crashes in September and October,” explained Superintendent Grant St. Germaine. He is the Officer in Charge of Traffic Services with the Saskatchewan RCMP. He noted that while there is usually a bump in the number of fatal collisions, this year, it is even more than what the RCMP has seen.
“By the end of August, we were trending about six fatal crashes less than the same period last year. I think we’re now sitting at seven or eight more than we were at the same period last year.”
For the RCMP, they are finding it alarming there isn’t any one specific causal factor for the increase. This means there isn’t any one thing they can look at in terms of education to help reduce the number of crashes.
St. Germaine pointed out that the number of collisions that appear to be related to alcohol is, on average, 30 percent of the total, and that has remained consistent over the past seven years. There has been an increase in the number of drivers getting tickets for using cannabis, but St. Germaine felt the number of people using cannabis isn’t necessarily increasing, but rather the number of people getting caught driving after consuming cannabis is what has gone up due to new tools available to police.
The fact there isn’t any one causal factor is something St. Germained admitted as being frustrating, but it isn’t going to stop police from doing what they can to reduce the number of collisions. One thing is education for motorists to remain aware and alert behind the wheel.
“You’re driving a vehicle that’s 7,000 pounds, 3,000 pounds, whatever it may happen to weigh, travelling down a road at 100, 160, 140 kilometres an hour,” St. Germaine said, adding that people do speed, no matter the best efforts of the police. “If you're not paying attention, it's just that fraction of an instant that it takes before you’re in the wrong lane or you’re off the road. Or, people fall asleep when driving when they’re driving fatigued.”
A lot of the causes of the collisions are the drivers themselves, St. Germaine continued.
“Those ones where we see were an accident where somebody runs into a semi head-on, on a daylit road and nobody’s been drinking, or at least doesn’t appear to be anybody’s drinking, why does that happen?” the superintendent asked. “Are they not paying attention? Did that somebody turn and look at something else and then cross the road?” He continued that people need to pay attention behind the road, obey the rules of the road, and follow the signs.
While it hasn’t been a causal factor in the collisions, there has been a developing trend in many of the collisions, according to St. Germaine – the lack of seatbelts.
“We’ve had seatbelt laws around for, I don’t remember, but I’m going to guess it’s got to be close to 50 years, and maybe it’s more than that,” St. Germaine explained. “We still have people driving vehicles without seatbelts on.” He continued that in nearly every instance when a person is in a collision and not wearing a seatbelt, they are ejected from the vehicle, and that can lead to death either from where they land or getting crushed by the vehicle.
With the fatal collisions has come one other part of policing that can take a toll on everyone involved – notifying the family that a loved one has died in a collision.
“I’ve done a number of them, and it’s not an enviable task, believe me,” St. Germaine related. “It’s when you go to somebody’s door, and you’re knocking the door to tell them that somebody’s passed away as a result of, whether it’s a motor vehicle accident or something else, it’s like the immediate emotional trauma that takes place by the person that you’ve told, and then to be standing there and (thinking) I witnessed this, and what do I do now to make it better? I can’t make it better.”
When it comes to preventing the loss of life in collisions, St. Germaine said there are really just a few key things that everyone who drives needs to remember – drive sober, don’t speed, drive to the conditions, remain aware, and wear a seatbelt.