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Respect on the road



In October 2008 the provincial government announced it was "investing $9.8 million to increase cycling accessibility and improve safety on Highway 99 in Whistler."

MLA Joan McIntyre said in a release: "In Whistler, we recognize the need to create room on the roads for all modes of transportation which means building larger shoulders for cyclists and improving bus bays to enhance transit services."

The result was the third lane between Function Junction and the village that was used by trucks and VANOC vehicles during the Olympics. Now that winter is over the ever-growing series of paint marks and patchy asphalt will be reconfigured to create two lanes of automobile traffic and the promised wider shoulders for bikes and bus stops. It should make cycling safer by giving cars and bikes a little more room.

But as the accident near Brio showed last Friday, it doesn't matter what is done to try and make roads safer if people using the roads don't have respect for one another. Fortunately there were no serious injuries when, according to RCMP, an intoxicated woman lost control of her vehicle and drove off the highway and over a barrier, her vehicle stopping just short of the Valley Trail. This happened at approximately 4:20 in the afternoon.

Local RCMP have been cracking down on drunk drivers in recent months - with alarming results. They keep finding drivers who shouldn't be behind the wheel of an automobile. Most of the RCMP roadblocks are done at night, but Friday's accident showed there may be drunks on the road in Whistler at virtually any time of day or night.

The province's new rules on drinking and driving, which are expected to become law in the fall, seem to violate the principle of innocent until proven guilty. But the intent of the law is worthy: to increase the consequences of driving impaired so that people don't do it. The consequences under the present law don't seem to be enough of a deterrent.

Intoxicated drivers are only one of the hazards on a busy road that is being redesigned to accommodate more traffic - specifically cyclists but the number of pedestrians will also increase with wider shoulders.

Drivers distracted by cellphones and other hand-held devices are a growing concern. It has been illegal in this province to drive while operating a hand-held device since Jan. 1, but anecdotal evidence suggests many drivers don't take the law, or the responsibility, seriously. ICBC says about 2,200 people across B.C. were charged with operating a cellphone while driving in February.

Other jurisdictions have found that laws similar to B.C.'s had an immediate impact on driver behaviour, but not a lasting impact. In California, for example, the governor's wife was found ignoring the law and talking on her phone while she drove.

The level of impairment cellphone conversations - not to mention texting - have on drivers' abilities has only recently begun to be examined. The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize last year for its Driven to Distraction series. One of the 20 stories looked at the extensive efforts of the cellphone industry to downplay the dangers of driving while operating a cellphone.

Television host Oprah Winfrey has launched a campaign to convince people of the dangers of driving while on the phone. She cites, as one example, a nine-year-old Colorado girl who was on her bicycle, "just 15 pedals from her front door, when she was struck and killed by a driver who was distracted by a cellphone."

For many of us, there is a level of hubris that seems to go with driving. Whether it's the belief that we can operate a car safely after drinking, that we can multi-task and operate a car and a hand-held computer at the same time, or that we're just a better driver than most and therefore we can drive faster and have little tolerance for people who go slower. It's a selfish "me first" attitude that almost seems to be inherent with automobiles. After all, we get in a car so that we can get somewhere.

But we share the path to our destination with others.

And in Whistler, the main path will increasingly be shared by drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. All have a responsibility to one another - to respect the rules of the road, to ride and drive in the correct lane, to be visible and predictable, to pass one another with care.

Wider shoulders, defined by painted lines, should help guide us but it comes down to respect for others with whom we share the road.



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