Michael Ward is a member of The Canadian Highways Network, Manitoba Driver Support Group. One day, a comment was made around awareness and we couldn't wait to chat more with him about some of the things happening out on our highways and streets these days.
Michael, can you tell us a little bit about the work you do?
Manitoba Traffic Cop/Retired. After just 3 years with the Winnipeg Police, there were openings in Central Traffic Division, and I was encouraged by one of my Patrol Sargents to apply, as he saw some potential in me. Though we received some basic traffic instruction in Recruit Training, once I was in traffic, a week of intensive training. This included Speed Enforcement (RaDaR & LiDaR) Impaired Driving Counter Measures and Collision Investigation. I took my training even a step further by receiving training in Light and Commercial Vehicle Inspection. I worked with a platoon of other Traffic Officers and we were tasked with a variety of enforcement duties throughout the city.
Speed enforcement, intersection and school zone safety, distracted driving and seatbelt enforcement were a daily activity. We were both self motivated, and assigned duties in areas where citizen complaints were received from. As a unit, we responded to major and fatal motor vehicle collisions. These included collisions between vehicles, trains, buildings and even aircraft.
Impaired driving counter measures included CheckStop, concentrated late night patrols and attending functions to provide public awareness. After several incidents, and complaints, as well as fatal collisions, contracted efforts were undertaken to monitor, and curtail, Sunday night Street Racing activities. Contrary to many people's beliefs, we were not tying to stop Sunday night cruising. In fact several of the Traffic Officers I worked with had hot rods, muscle cars and motorcycles, including myself. Cruise night inspections were meant to ensure cruising vehicles were safe, and targeting areas of the city known for racing activities was intending to prevent high speed collisions. As Traffic Officers, we also supported General Patrol Officers with expertise and back up, answering traffic related questions or inspecting vehicle they felt may have equipment issues.
When I retired from the Winnipeg Police, I moved to the Springfield Police, east of Winnipeg. My focus was still on Traffic Safety, just on a much larger scale ( approx. 450 square miles) and higher speeds, being that most of the municipality was highway. Lastly, in both jurisdictions, I supported other units and agencies, providing traffic control at fire, disaster or crime scenes, conducted escorts for dignitary visits or parades, and provided backup during incident or projects.
Why do you believe there has been such an increase in highway traffic accidents? Have we become a society whose technology has surpassed the ability to use it wisely? Are our provincial disciplinary measures for texters and drivers not harsh enough? Is it something else?
I think there are several factors leading to the increase in traffic collisions. Impatience is a huge factor. I have found many people do not allow themselves enough time to get where they are going. I alway allow myself what I call "Train Time." I live in Transcona so, even with the new Plessis underpass, trains are an influence on traffic. And with all of the construction around the city, people should be thinking about detours and delays, but many don't allow time for these. Distracted and impaired driving are also huge factors.
The Highway Traffic Act legislation has not deterred everyone from using electronic devises and the Criminal Code legislation for impaired driving has not stopped people from drinking and driving. In fact the HTA distracted driving laws have created a different type of problem. Drivers are not stopping their bad habit, but instead are going to greater, and more dangerous, lengths to hide what they are doing. Lap Texting is taking driver's eyes off the road for longer periods of time, and the distances they are travelling while not watching the road is increasing, resulting in more speed and less stopping distance. Vehicles themselves are also a contributing factor. Navigation, information and entertainment systems within the vehicles are only adding to the distractions. Safety systems are leading people to believe they are totally safe and invulnerable. Vehicles are designed nowadays to protect the occupants, but only up to certain speeds. Most collisions under 90 KPH are survivable, with today's technology, but not guaranteed. Drivers habits are the last influence. I've written articles and made this statement many times.." follow the traffic laws, including speed limits, don't drink, or text, and drive, stay in your lane and wear your seatbelt"
The fine for texting and driving in Manitoba is only $300 or so dollars, no points lost (please correct us if we are wrong). With the last update on the Apple iPhone, it gives the user an option to put your phone in 'Do Not Disturb' mode and can automatically respond by text stating that you are driving and will respond when you arrive at the destination. Do you think this should be mandatory instead of optional?
I personally feel the distracted driving (cell phone use or texting while driving) are not harsh enough. And I do have to correct you...the fine is only $203.80, but there are demerits to a driver's Safety Rating attached to a conviction. I have heard of some of the technologies of the new cell phones, including one that apparently syncs with your vehicle, that deactivates the phone while the vehicle is in motion. I'm not sure that any government could legally force someone to buy a particular device or technology. I just think people need to exercise a lot more self discipline when it comes to their cell phones. Turn it off, put it out of reach, or in the trunk, but just leave it alone. Even hands free the device is still distracting, including the radio or CD player. Pull over to make a call or text. Wait for a red light or stop to adjust the volume or change stations.
Why do YOU believe the public is not getting the message - accidents have increased, but (ie: drunk driving, texting/driving) awareness has also increased.
I'm really not sure why the public isn't getting the message. The Province, MPI, many agencies have taken to all forms of media: electronic, print, radio/TV, billboards, personal public awareness meetings and roadside contact incentives and projects....but from what I've seen, many people just don't think all of these campaigns are directed at them. Young people are driving way beyond their abilities, middle aged people have become complacent and older drivers may have lost some of their abilities, such as limb function and reaction time, sight and confidence in driving.
I have been involved in many awareness campaigns, attempting to target specific groups: young/old, aggressive, cruisers/street racers impaired driving, etc. We can put out all the information and data, but we can't make everyone heed the information. Even showing people the results of collisions, gore and damage, doesn't always send the message home, because too many people have the attitude 'it will never happen to me.'
It's difficult to keep believing people 'don't know it is illegal or wrong' when preventable vehicular accidents keep happening.
I think everyone would be amazed at the number of times I have heard 'I didn't know that was illegal'.
I usually shake my head, because even Common Sense should be a bit of a guide. Traffic laws are not difficult to follow and good driving habits would decrease collisions enormously. Everyone knows it's illegal to speed, but many think it's okay to go 10 or 15 kilometres over the posted limit. Everyone knows that a STOP sign means "stop" but many people think it's okay to do a "rolling stop"...sorry, no such thing....either you stop or you don't.
Now, there are some laws that people may not understand fully, and I can provide a good example. Section 115(2) of the HTA. Simply put, a driver cannot pass another vehicle on the right side, unless there is a lane there. This means you can't drive off of the roadway, onto the Right-of-Way (the shoulder) to pass a stopped vehicle, wanting to make a left turn. It doesn't matter if it's paved or gravel, there are lines or not, including intersections. This goes back to impatience. Even a long line of approaching traffic is not going to delay anyone that long. Wait for the vehicle to turn and then proceed.
The other big issue when it comes to not knowing the legality is vehicle equipment. Automotive retailers are in the business of selling their products. The buyer is responsible for knowing if it's legal to use on their vehicle, on the highway. Window tint has limitations, certain lights are illegal to use when on the highway ( it's okay to have them installed, and use at a car show or when in a parking lot, but not while on the street) and Radar Detectors are illegal to possess in the vehicle, functioning or not. I think everyone knows that running a red light, or turning against a regulatory sign is wrong, but they ignore it and take their chances. Unfortunately, more often than not, those same people do not take responsibility for their actions when involved in a collision either.
We spoke with a group of drivers who told us that 'phasing out' while driving happens to most of them at some point. They explained that stress, daily responsibilities, overfull schedules, children and their schedules - all of these things contributed to the 'phased out' driver. They describe it like tunnel vision. Is society feeling the pressure and accidents are the result? Do you believe strong coping skills contribute to a better driver behind the wheel of a car? Have you experienced a driver who had no coping skills? How did you handle it and do you believe these folks can have positive interactions with others and then move forward with the new knowledge and make adjustments too, or no?
I think driving has become so routine that many drivers do "phase out" or think that the time driving can be used for other purposes. I'm of the opinion that driving is "multi-tasking" at its finest.
Driving requires all of the senses, though many drivers don't seem to understand that. Obviously we think about our eyes to see and hands to steer, but a lot of drivers ignore their other senses. A cranked up stereo distracts your train of thought and prevents you from hearing outside stimuli, such as horn and sirens. Overall sense of feeling, feet, gut, balance all affect the movement of the vehicle. Even the sense of smell? Would you not be wondering what was going on if you smelled natural gas or smoke?
Following the same route every day is a good example. I can relate two examples of how this can affect driving. Driving down the same street every day often causes people to miss things, like STOP signs. Changes in this such as Temporary signs, construction or an emergency also cause issues for complacent drivers. You'd be surprised how many times I've been blocking traffic at a fire scene, and had people say " but this is the only way I know how to go", even though the next street over runs parallel and takes them to the same destination. If drivers are "phasing out" or doing things, other than driving the vehicle, they are creating their own risks.
For people who travel the same route every day, as a routine, I myself, and I suggest to friends, family and people I have had professional contact with, is to change things up once in a while - take a different route to and from work, or school, then actually stop along the route and look around for changes in signs or road work, and leave at different times - it refreshes the mind and removes the tunnel vision.
You have spoken of better, brighter signage on highways (and lane markings) to alert those who seem oblivious to highway 'instruction.'Could we need more than this? Could it be something else?
Signage - Winnipeg and Manitoba both, in my humble opinion, are lacking in some respects, and overdone in others. I've travelled throughout North America and because of the work I do/did, I take probably more notice of traffic things, especially signs. I have found the city and province lacking in signs in some crucial locations. I've observed Speed signs posted in locations that are not truly informative to drivers, such as before the intersection of a reduced speed zone, but no signs past the intersection, within the actual speed zone. I've also seen signs that are incorrect for the location, and intended direction for motorists. In cases like these, I have informed the Traffic Authority of my observations, and the diversion from their own requirements. Some have been resolved, some ignored. If I found what I felt was inadequate signage, I would not do enforcement, because I knew it would not stand up in court if challenged.
Conversely, I have found locations where there are too many, or conflicting, or just out and out confusing signs. Sometimes it's too many advertising signs or too many signs bunched together, making it almost impossible to read in the few seconds a driver has while approaching. My last pet peeve is the lack of maintenance on signs, whether it's clearing away foliage, or replacing weathered and faded signs. I can think of numerous locations where speed, or STOP signs are covered by tree limbs, or red signs, or signs with red "Restriction" circles on them that have been obliterated by the sun's rays. I realize we live in an area where snow falls every year, and road markings are also obliterated by sanding and clearing, but I'm not sure how to fix that. If I had that answer, I'd be a millionaire.
Again, a recommendation to the motoring public, if you see a sign that is damaged, faded, missing or confusing, report it. It won't get fixed if the right people don't know. I'd like to touch briefly on parking signs too. When I worked for the Winnipeg Parking Authority I had many people approach me and ask about curb side signage, or the different meanings of signs.
The best advise I can give is that the signs are prioritized from the top one, down. The definition of "Parking" has many meaning, such as: stopping, standing, parking etc -.most important: " if in doubt, park somewhere else" because the Parking Authority Officers can be ruthless and the hearing officer and courts, just as much.
Manitoba (and Canada's) driver penalties. Do you believe they are too harsh, not harsh enough or are we on the right track and they are fair, working and seeing positive changes?
Penalties in Manitoba, and Canada, are, in most cases, sufficient. How judges and magistrates use them, sometimes leaves bit to be desired for many people. I think most of the fines are reflective of the offence, except for a couple that come to mind. For me, the fines for distracted driving and failing to slow down and move over for emergency and designated vehicles are not harsh enough. The province, and MPI, has taken great strides in dealing with many offences that are more severe, and dangerous. Sanctions for driving more than 50km/hr over the speed limit, Careless Driving causing injury or death, and impaired driving go a long way to being a deterrent, and remove certain drivers from the highway.
There is new legislation coming out shortly, that will change the fine structure and court proceedings. We'll have to wait and see if these lead to positive change.
What final message do you have for Canadian drivers?
For a final message, I would suggest all drivers think of driving as a task unto itself. Traverse the street as if you were taking your driver's test for the very first time. Just drive the vehicle, don't read the paper, fix your makeup, call or text your friends. Focus on the task at hand: DRIVING!
Michael Ward, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. We really appreciate it.