Road warriors abdicating responsibilities

One of the many paradoxes of Whistler is that when given the chance most of us are eager to tell others how long we have lived here – longer apparently being better – as if that gives us some special status. But no matter how long we’ve lived here, most of us refuse to accept that we’re getting older.

Despite all efforts – and some of us in Whistler go to great lengths – few of us have stopped the advancement of age. Personally, the signs of middle age have become too frequent to ignore. Intolerance for some types of loud music, back pain, zero interest in computer games, pants with elasticized waist bands… a cruise-ship vacation is probably just around the corner.

Another sign of advancing age is a lack of tolerance for people who screw up. I’m not talking about your tried-hard-but-just-made-a-mistake screw up. I’m talking about the sort of jerk who gets drunk, jumps in his car, drives at twice the speed limit and causes an accident that nine times out of 10 results in fatalities. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

This is nothing new. It happens in many parts of the world, over and over again. Such actions are no more or less tragic than they were at a younger age, but they seem more outrageous as we get older. Are we incapable of learning from others’ mistakes?

Another twisted sign of having lived in Whistler for considerable time is that long-term residents probably know someone, or perhaps several people, who have been in serious car accidents on Highway 99. It seems to be just a matter of time before it happens. The highway’s reputation is known far and wide. It’s regularly referred to as the Killer Highway, although for a time during the Olympic bid that name was temporarily replaced by Achilles Heel. In 1990, when Whistler was just beginning to gain recognition as a rival of Vail, Aspen and other American ski areas, the publisher of the Idaho Mountain Express in Ketchum said: "Where did Whistler come from? All we knew about it was it was a ski area at the end of a crazy road."

The highway has seen its share of "natural" disasters, from rock slides that have blocked the road to the M Creek tragedy in the early ’80s and the Rutherford Creek tragedy last fall. But the vast majority of accidents on the Sea to Sky Highway are caused by human error.

The province has documented that there are approximately 300 crashes per year on the highway. A report last year found the "collision density… between Horseshoe Bay and Pemberton were two to three times the provincial average." A study of accidents on the highway between 1993 and 1997 found the rate of fatal collisions was nearly twice the provincial rate for rural conventional highways.

The $600 million upgrade of the highway, which will start next spring, apparently will include designs and alignments intended to try and curb aggressive driving and reduce accidents. That may help, but as people in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton say, the main problem is not the highway, it’s the drivers. The fact that thousands of people daily travel up and down the highway without incident, in all kinds of weather, supports this premise.

Several years ago people in Lions Bay initiated the Highway 99 Watch. ICBC has had several campaigns to promote safe driving on the Sea to Sky Highway. Yet there always seems to be a few drivers who continue to wilfully put themselves and others at risk.

The highway is the artery that links the whole corridor, from Lions Bay to Pemberton. It is crucial to the survival of the corridor communities. At present, there is no viable alternative to it. But we continue to tolerate people who selfishly see it as their domain, where they feel free to act without regard for others.

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