WINNIPEG — If the summer of 2013 has seemed more deadly in rural Manitoba, that’s because it has been.
There have been 79 deaths resulting from vehicle collisions so far in 2013 in RCMP jurisdictions, similar to 2012 (77), but higher than the five-year average (69). And it’s only October.
Experts will tell you such spikes cannot be readily explained, although the major culprits remain constant: Alcohol, speed and lack of seatbelt use — the latter a deadly disparity between rural and urban drivers.
RCMP Cpl. Bob Dowd, a 25-year veteran who now works reconstruction on collision sites, sees the grisly results of traffic fatalities up close every week.
And those aren’t just numbers to him. Said Dowd: “I’ve carried enough dead children to last forever.”
While hard data is difficult to accrue — seatbelt use in drivers’ surveys can’t be trusted — most industry experts and police acknowledge rural drivers are generally less likely to buckle up.
For those in the collision-prevention business, the peak in deaths is a disturbing trend.
“In their mind, they’re not travelling very far,” said Manitoba Public Insurance spokesman Brian Smiley, of rural drivers who don’t use seatbelts. “And they’re familiar with their surroundings.”
A sense of complacency, however, is habit-forming, meaning when rural drivers venture outside the confines of their home communities they still don’t put on their belts — while travelling at higher speeds than within city limits.
The result: On average, 40 per cent of people killed in traffic collisions in rural Manitoba are not wearing a seatbelt or helmet, according to RCMP figures, representing about 35 people every year.
“It makes your jaw drop,” said CAA spokeswoman Liz Peters, “when you pick up the paper and see two more people have died for whatever reason.
“It’s a mentality they have in rural areas, that bad things can’t happen to them. But they can.”
In Saskatchewan, where the rural population is even larger, there have already been 100 fatalities reported between Jan. 1 and Oct. 8. The five-year average is almost 140, with more than 40 per cent of victims — identical to Manitoba — not wearing seatbelts.
South of the border in North Dakota — where the state population is smaller than Manitoba’s but still rural-based, the story is worse. There were 170 road fatalities in 2012, according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol. Of those fatalities, 67 per cent were not wearing seatbelts.
The introduction of electronic devices such as smartphones, and drivers who continue to use them behind the wheel, will only contribute to the fatality totals, Dowd said, noting, “It’s almost like we’re creating more and more ways to be distracted.”
“We do know people are dying on Manitoba roadways because of the choices that are being made,” said RCMP spokeswoman Tara Seel. “That’s a fact. (The deaths) are preventable.”
» Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 15, 2013