My thoughts and prayers go out to those who lost their lives on Highway 63 last week and in the past. There are too many collisions on that road connecting Fort McMurray south. Something needs to be done to make that road safer.
The online campaign to twin Highway 63 has garnered national attention, thanks to passionate, concerned, and angry citizens that use it and families of those who lost their lives.
I do think this highway should have been twinned years ago. All levels of government has dragged their feet on this project and it’s a disgrace.
However, these accidents aren’t caused by any structural deficiencies of the road.
Assholes on the Highway
Fighting government forces to expediate the twinning process is commendable and required, but that’s not the point. The highway should be twinned because the threshold for traffic warrants a divided road. It’s a major dangerous goods route that hosts heavy wide-load traffic and that will continue for decades. The Wood Buffalo region will continue to grow, as will it’s traffic.
But we shouldn’t blame dangerous driving on the two-lane stretch of pavement.
Alberta Transportation’s 2007 Traffic Collision Statistics stated that tailgating and running off the road are the biggest reasons for traffic fatalities. Most of them occur during dry conditions. Casualty rates are highest amongst citizens aged 15-24. As for drivers, males between 18 and 19 years of age have the highest involvement in casualties. Deaths occur significantly more on rural roads than on urban roads.
It is fair to say that highway 63 fits these criteria. It is also fair to infer that driver irresponsibility is the leading cause for traffic fatalities.
Assholes behind the wheel are causing the dangerous conditions: Assholes who pass when there’s a solid line, assholes who pass when it’s not safe, assholes who speed, assholes who tailgate, assholes who don’t pay attention, assholes who don’t follow traffic laws, etc.
Don’t Be An Asshole
There needs to be a culture shift. Everybody who lives and/or works in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo know the highway’s tragic history. Many people are openly terrified of that road.
So why do people continue to be asshole drivers?
Drivers have to stop being assholes on the road. Most people know someone who is dangerous on the highway. Breaking traffic laws cost lives. This has to stop.
It can start by speaking differently. It should take 5 hours to drive from Edmonton to Fort McMurray, not 4 or 3 and a 1/2. Anyone who makes the drive in 4 hours or less is an asshole who breaks traffic laws. Anyone who brags about how fast their car went before it maxes out is an asshole who shouldn’t have a license. We should call them out.
It’s not just speeding. If we know people who pass several cars with no passing lane, tell them it’s asshole driving. If we know people who tailgate because a concerned driver is cruising the speed limit, or being cautious when the weather is less than favorable, we must get angry about it. These asshole drivers are putting lives in danger.
If we are on that highway and we see an asshole driver, remember their license plate number, pull over and call the police immediately. If the RCMP gets flooded with calls about dangerous driving, they must act. These calls get counted and logged. The province will determine then that more patrollers are required on that road. More sheriffs will be hired if there is proof that it is needed. A flood of calls will be that proof.
We must watch for company vehicles as well. Semi-trucks shouldn’t pass vehicles without a passing lane regardless of the conditions. Most trucks have a number on their bumper. We have to pull over and call companies if they have hired asshole drivers. A head-on collision with a semi-truck would be devastating to a small car with a family.
We mustn’t be afraid to be backseat drivers either. If we are sitting shotgun with a driver who makes asshole moves, call them out. Threaten to call the police while in the vehicle. Threaten to get out at the next stop. Threaten to find another friend to carpool with because they can’t be trusted.
Why is this not the norm? Why do we not teach each other that dangerous driving should not be tolerated? Why do we put up with asshole drivers anywhere?
And most importantly, why does it take an incomprehensible tragedy for all of us to wake up to this reality?
This will not stop until there is a major culture shift. Asshole drivers don’t deserve to be on the road.
We have to spread the word or more lives will be lost.
My Drive On Highway 63
On February 21st 2012, my non-sexual life partner Amy and I drove to Fort McMurray from Edmonton for a few days. As I drove, Amy took down some stats for me right at the turn-off to Highway 63 north of Grasslands. We also took some stats on the way back to Edmonton on February 24th 2012.
We counted every car and semi that was driving in the opposite direction. We counted each vehicle that passed us on the single-lane portions of the highway. We counted every vehicle that tailgated us. We did not count the vehicles that passed us on designated passing lanes.
These are NOT scientific. They are just our personal experiences:
February 21st 2012 – Driving conditions: snowy, wet, visibility low as it got later.
Highway 63 from the Highway 55 turnoff to Wandering River – 7:50pm
-There were 6 semi-trucks parked just north of the turn. 33 semis and 54 cars were driving south. 1 car passed me on a solid yellow line and tailgated me for 1 minute while I was driving 110 km/hr. I passed no one.
Wandering River until the start of passing lanes – 8:24pm
-There were 14 semis and 5 cars parked at Wandering River. 38 semis, 1 wide-load and 60 cars drove past southbound. It was fully dark outside and snowing at this time. 3 cars passed me while I was driving 110 km/hr. 1 car tailgated me for 90 seconds and passed me while I drove 100 km/hr. 1 car passed me while I drove 85km/hr. 1 car tailgated me for 2 minutes and passed me while I was driving 90 km/hr. I passed no one.
Passing lanes start until Mariana Lake
-25 semis and 48 cars were driving southbound. 1 car passed me while I was driving 85km/hr. No one tailgated me. I passed no one.
Mariana Lake until the divided highway just south of Fort McMurray – 9:39pm
-There were 9 semis parked outside of Mariana Lake. 33 semis and 46 cars were traveling southbound. No one passed me. No one tailgated me. I passed no one.
February 24th 2012 – Driving conditions: wet, clear, dry as it got later.
Fort McMurray to Mariana Lake, after the divided highway – 7:20am
-78 semis, 4 wide-loads, and 40 cars were traveling northbound towards Fort McMurray. 1 passed me while I was driving 100km/hr. I passed 3 semis and 1 car while driving 110km/hr (all at different times.)
Mariana Lake until the end of passing lanes – 8:15am
-40 semis and 14 cars were driving northbound to Fort McMurray. 1 semi passed me while I was driving 110 km/hr. I passed 1 car and 1 semi, both at 110 km/hr at different times. No one tailgated me.
The end of passing lanes to Wandering River
-51 semis, 2 wide-loads and 43 cars were traveling north to Fort McMurray. 1 car traveling the opposing direction passed a semi and came dangerously close to hitting me. The vehicle cut in front of the semi in time to avoid a collision. 2 cars passed me while I drove 110 km/hr, both tailgated me for under 1 minute. I passed 3 cars at 110 km/hr (all at different times.)
Wandering River to Highway 55 – 9:20am
-Most of the traffic south of Wandering River was backed up because of a 2 large wide-loads heading north. Traffic was bottle-necked on and off for nearly 20 minutes. 42 semis and 47 cars traveled north. 1 car passed me and several other vehicles while we were driving 50km/hr. That car cut off the vehicle in front of me to avoid a head-on collision with a semi-truck. I had to slam on my breaks to avoid rear-ending the vehicle. The car did it again once opposing traffic cleared, passing several vehicles until it was out of my sight. 3 other cars attempted to pass me during this traffic jam but cut back in behind me to avoid on-coming traffic.
On the days I drove highway 63 (northbound on a Tuesday and southbound on a Friday,) there were more semi-trucks than cars. I did not feel unsafe when the weather was snowy and it was dark. That being said, there was a significant difference between driving with passing lanes and stretches without them. The only times that I felt unsafe on the road was when I was being tailgated, and they all occurred when there were no passing lanes. There was one incident on Feb. 24th after Mariana Lake where a car was driving toward me in my lane while passing a semi-truck. I felt very nervous at this point, but they had enough time to get in back in their lane. This was a dangerous pass that could have resulted in a head-on collision with my car. The most frightening moment was south of Wandering River on that same day when traffic was backed up. The road was windy and traffic was going no more than 50 km/hr when the car passed mine and several others at the same time. I don’t recall if there was a solid yellow line on the road or not, however that does not matter. There was a traffic jam and this driver was trying to pass it without knowing what was ahead. I thought for sure the vehicle was going to get into an accident (thank God it didn’t.) A collision would have directly effected several cars that were close and traveling slowly. There was no way someone could avoid it with the stand-still. It was, by far, the most nerve-wracking experience I’ve ever had on that highway.
Here are some of the stories and online journalists I’ve been following on highway 63: