Improving the safety and reliability of Highway 99 was one of the main goals of the $600 million Sea to Sky Highway Improvement Project, and statistics released in February show that the road is safer and less prone to closures than before.
Ministry of Transportation spokesman Jeff Knight said ministry engineers really need about three years of data before they can make any definitive statements, but so far it looks promising.
Before 2008, going back 10 years, the highway averaged 215 collisions per year. In 2010 there were just 73, or almost 66 per cent fewer collisions. As well, head-on-collisions were down about 80 per cent.
The number of fatalities has also been reduced for a road once known as the Death Highway. In 2010 there was just one highway death reported, while from 1998 to 2007 a total of 63 people died on the highway, or an average of 6.3 people per year. There was a record high of 14 deaths in 2004, the year seven people - including five Whistler hotel workers - were killed in a single head-on.
Knight said the statistics show improved reliability as well.
"The point of the project was to improve safety, but the side benefit has been to improve the reliability of the highway for people who travel regularly," said Knight. "I know there were often delays because of crashes where the highway was closed, and now there's fewer delays with the improvement - fewer crashes being the main reason, but having additional lanes has also made a difference in keeping the road open. As well, (because of the highway work) there haven't been as many rockslides."
The decline in accidents is actually more significant when you take into account the increased number of vehicles using the highway. Since 2005, the average daily traffic between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish has increased 8.6 per cent. Between Squamish and Whistler it's up 18.2 per cent.
"It's currently 14,000 vehicles per day from Horseshoe Bay to Squamish and about 9,000 between Squamish and Whistler," said Knight.
The most recent statistics are for 2010, and daily traffic statistics are averaged out annually.
There are a few more reasons the highway may be safer. In September 2010, the B.C. Government ushered in the strictest impaired driving laws in Canada with increased penalties and a lower blood-alcohol content threshold before penalties come into effect.
Now, testing between 0.05 per cent and 0.08 per cent blood alcohol content results in a three-day driving prohibition and three-day vehicle impoundment at the owner's expense. Testing over 0.08 per cent results in an immediate driving prohibition of 90 days, a 30-day impoundment, mandatory courses, mandatory in-car breathalyzers and other fines and penalties that can cost a first-time offender over $4,000.
The province also increased the penalties for speeding and other dangerous driving offences. In additional to fines, drivers going 40 km/h over the limit will have their licenses suspended and vehicles impounded for seven days.
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