Tag Archives: driving

Time to Throw the Book at Distracted Drivers

By Jason Menard,

When it comes to assault with a deadly weapon, should we add paperbacks to the list?

I’m not talking about getting a serious infection thanks to a particularly nasty paper cut. Nor am I talking about the danger of walking into a really sturdy street sign whilst reading a particularly engaging novel (not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything…)

No, I’m talking about being behind the wheel of a 2,300-kilogram vehicle hurtling down the highway at speeds exceeding 100 km/h, all the while deeply engaged in the latest bestseller. Would that qualify? Continue reading

Intelligent Solutions to School Bus Safety

By Jason Menard

When it comes to school bus safety, who truly needs to smarten up: the school bus designers or those who share the road with these yellow behemoths?

The question comes up again in light of the horrific accident in Huntsville, Alabama, which saw three teenaged girls killed and 30 other high schoolers injured when a school bus was involved in an accident that sent it through the guardrail of an overpass. The bus plummeted 30 feet to the ground, landing nose first.

Of course, nobody on that bus was wearing a seat belt, because as we all know most school buses aren’t outfitted with restraining devices. But would seat belts really help? Our knee-jerk reaction, cemented in the fact that the mantra of wearing a seat belt saves lives has been driven into our skulls, is yes. However, according to the Ministry of Transportation – Ontario, seat belts may in fact do more harm than good – and the buses’ design alone makes them safe for students.

School buses are designed to be compartmentalized, essentially creating little pockets of safety for each child. By installing well-anchored seats with higher backs that are filled with energy-absorbing material and placed closer together, those who have engineered the school buses have done what they can to promote safety for its occupants.

Conversely, putting restraining devices, such as seat belts, into a school bus may cause even more problems. As any parent knows, as children grow, their belt requirements change. In a school bus environment, it’s nearly impossible – and at the very least excessively impractical – to ensure that all seat belts are properly adjusted to the size and weight of a constantly changing series of seat occupants.

A poorly fitted seat belt can cause serious injuries in the event of an accident. And would that make the bus driver liable for any injuries caused by a child’s inability to properly adjust his or her restraining device? Should we expect our children to be able to handle this responsibility on their own?

Too many parents focus on the lack of a seat belt and look at that as a negligent act. They don’t look at the engineering and design aspects that have been implemented to compensate for the lack of a restraining device. In the end, save for any future adjustments and improvements to the design of the bus, it would seem that our children’s safety has been well accounted for. As hard as it may for us inundated with the importance of seat belts throughout our lives, the lack of seat belts in a school bus seems to be the right choice.

So if we can’t improve bus safety on the buses, then we have to look elsewhere for improvements. Specifically, instead of making the buses safer for the road, we have to make the road safer for the buses – and our children.

There are still times when we see people passing stopped school buses, either trying to beat the extension of the stop arm, or in complete defiance of it. There are still drivers who race through school zones at speeds well in excess of the posted speed limits. And there are still those motorists who choose to drive aggressively and erratically through our city streets.

The buses aren’t the problem. We are.

But what can be done? On a couple of occasions I’ve called police to report someone blowing past a stopped bus with its lights flashing. And while the dispatch person has been pleasant, the fact is that the police don’t have the man power to chase after every person who ignores not just the law, but basic common sense.

In fact, the greatest risk to our children doesn’t come while they’re on the bus, it comes as they’re getting off. And no belt in the world is going to protect them from that danger.

Currently there’s a national study looking at the issue of seat belts on school buses. The Ontario government has indicated that it will take the findings into consideration for the future. But chances are the status quo will be upheld.

In the end, assuring the safety of our school-aged children isn’t one that’s the domain of engineering. And no fabric strap or metal buckle will ever replace common sense as a deterrent for accidents.

Slow down. Watch for kids. And try to avoid the giant yellow vehicle in front of you. Then the whole point about seat belts becomes moot. After all, the best way to ensure the effectiveness of safety devices and design is to make sure they’re never called into use.

Inside the bus isn’t where the problem lies. Therefore, the burden falls squarely on our shoulders. If we drive safer, then maybe tragedies like the one in Huntsville can be avoided.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Regulating Common Sense

By Jason Menard

Again, another holiday weekend passes with thousands of highway traffic infractions, scores of drunk driving charges, and a few – a few too many – fatalities. And so it’s more evident than ever that if humanity isn’t enough, then technology must step in to fill the breach.

If we can’t regulate ourselves, then we need to have regulators. End point.

The technology exists, but it’s more politics than practicality that prevents automakers from installing drunk driving and speed regulators. And without the political pressure to do so, why would they incur any extra expense?

So how many more people have to die for us to get the point?

Every car should have an inhibitor that would prevent the starting of a vehicle when someone who is above the legal limit of alcohol is at the wheel. Currently those against the issue claim that having to blow into a testing device is too cumbersome and is punishing the innocent. To which I question what’s more inconvenient: having the comfort of knowing that everyone else on the road isn’t driving three sheets to the wind, or allowing the status quo and watching more and more people become irrecovably injured or killed?

Inconvenience me! Please.

In fact, where’s the argument? Unless you drive drunk, then you shouldn’t have a problem with this action? This isn’t a matter of Big Brother watching over you – it’s a matter of common sense. Unfortunately we’ve proven that common sense isn’t all that common.

As for speed, we have limits on the highway – and we have those who are willing to exceed those limits at all times. I admit, I’m one of them. In the city, I do my best to abide by the posted speed limits. But on our frequent trips down the 401 to Montreal and back, I can’t say I don’t cruise at a steady 120 or 130 kph, depending on the flow of traffic.

Of course, I’m also convinced that if I drove at 100 kph, the posted speed limit, I’d be posing more of a hazard than through my belief in keeping pace with the other vehicles around me.

So, raise the speed limit – and not just to 110 like Manitoba is proposing – but to 120 or 130. Our cars are faster, more responsive, and more effective than those that were in existence when the Trans-Canada highway was built. So let’s acknowledge that, raise the speed limit, and regulate vehicles so that they can’t exceed that speed.

Sure, that doesn’t affect the speeders in cities and on secondary highways, but it does reduce the need for police presence on the highways. It doesn’t eliminate it, mind you, as there are those who will continue to drive erratically – which is just as great of a danger – and those who will mechanically circumvent the regulator. But, for the rest of us, we’re good to go.

Naysayers point to the prohibitive cost of installing these tools, but that’s an argument rooted in fallacy and selective accounting. Yes, currently drunk driving regulators cost $1,000 US. But the simple economics of supply and mass production would mandate that if these regulators came standard with every North American produced car, then the cost would be minimized. Secondly, there are new and exciting technologies that would reduce the inconvenience factor as new tests will be able to detect the presence of alcohol through skin.

As well, insurance companies could get on board and would be able to reduce rates, knowing that there will be a precipitous drop in selective claims. Thus, any expenditure for a regulator could be made up – even within a year or two of vehicle ownership – through rebates and promotions from the insurance industry.

Finally, we would be able to deploy our already-stretched-thin police force in a more effective manner. Instead of wasting one of our finest on a day shift of pointing a radar gun at passing motorists, they could be better served tracking down people that are committing serious crimes! They could increase their presence in the cities instead of holding fort on a bleak stretch of paved shoulder on the highways of our nation.

Unfortunately, common sense isn’t all that common. And if humanity can’t take care of itself through organic means, then humanity has to protect itself through the magic of technology. I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument that would allow us to drive drunk. There is no human freedom that affords you the right to get behind the wheel after tying one on.

Arguments to the contrary? How about Transport Canada’s 2003 numbers that say that 902 lives were lost in accidents where a driver had been drinking. That’s 902 extremely compelling arguments – and those are just the fatalities. How many more people have been injured by drunk driving and excessive speeds?

How many more have to die before we realize that we have the technology to make a difference. We just need the political wherewithal to do something about it.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Tanks for the Memories

By Jason Menard

While filling up my tank in Montreal, I came to the realization that gas companies have us, both literally and figuratively, over a barrel.

I realized how bad the situation has gotten during a recent fill-up. Oh, how naïve I was when, leaving Ontario just last week, I grumbled about filling up with prices in the mid-80s. Little did I know what was awaiting me in la belle province.

Like a mountain climber that sets up a camp to acclimatize to the higher elevations, my family made a stop in the Ottawa-Gatineau region before continuing on our merry way. While the prices were in the low-90s, they served as a buffer for what I was to experience hitting Montreal.


Unfortunately, that’s not the frequency of the radio station I was listening to. That was the price of gas staring at me from every Petro-Canada, Ultramar, and Esso on and off the island. I mean, I was ready to get out and push the car the rest of the way when I saw that. I didn’t even know those signs could hold three numbers before the period, but apparently they do.

But it wasn’t the price itself that discouraged me. It was how I reacted to it. The fact that when, mid-week, well past midnight, I found an out-of-the-way station that was selling gas for 94.9, I essentially broke out into a little petroleum-fuelled happy dance and — for a moment — I felt like I had found a portal to an on-ramp to Nirvana. I was actually able to look at a mid-90s price and say to myself, “Hey, that’s pretty cheap!”

I hit rock bottom when, the very next day, I took pleasure in watching others filling up at 104.9. I was engaging in a sort of sweet crude schadenfreude. It was at that time I realized how far gone we are. And that no matter how high the gas prices go, we’ll always find a way to happily pay the petroleum premium, as long as someone else, somewhere is paying more.

I’ve heard the arguments about how lucky we are in North America to essentially pay half of what our compatriots in Europe shell out for gas. But to me – and the majority of other vehicle owners in North America, that luxury is taken for granted. We’re used to paying well under a buck for a litre of gas and, judging by the grumbling at the pump, we’re not willing to give up that right.

However, the human mind has a great way to rationalize each and every purchase. We’ve seen our gas prices rise steadily each and every day. We’ve gone from grumbling about paying in the 70s to grumbling about paying in the 80s. Ontarians have grumbled about the rising costs of fuelling up, but happily do so with the idea that “at least we’re not paying Quebec or East Coast prices!”

But our costs are rising. And I think the gas companies have figured it out! Sure, they may send the prices skyrocketing by five or more cents one day, and we’ll all be up in a lather about it. But as prices ease up a bit – not back to their original threshold, but down a few pennies here and there – we grow accustomed to the inflated price and justify the cost by saying, “well, it’s cheaper than it was last week”

Yet today’s sticker shock-inducing price is tomorrow’s wistful memory. Fuelling up in the 60s and 70s used to be a travesty – now those prices are nothing more than fond sepia-tinged remembrances.

As drivers we all get into a huff about the rising cost of gas. We grouse and grumble about gas taxes, rising costs, and make off-hand comments about how the government needs to step in and do something about it. But we never really get mad enough to prompt any sort of action. At the same time as we fret and fume about the rising cost of gas, we’re digging in deeper into our pockets to find the cash to pay for our on-the-go lifestyle.

No matter how much we may try to conserve, drive smaller cars, or find alternative sources of transportation, we seem to have come to the same conclusion as a society: there’s really nothing we can do about the price of gas, so it’s time to put up and shut up.

So maybe I shouldn’t look upon the times that I fill up in Quebec as an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence. Perhaps I shouldn’t be shaking my head in disbelief, but rather nod my head in sage appreciation for the look into the future that I’ve been granted. After all, day-by-day, month-by-month, and price jump by price jump, we’re probably all going to be seeing four digits on our fuel pumps in the not-too-distance future.

After all, we may be over the same barrel, but as long as someone else is in a more uncomfortable position, we’ll be OK with our lot in life.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved