Imagine if nine homicides occurred in Manitoba during a one month period. This would be not only front page news, but police and every level of government would be scrambling to get on top of the crisis. When nine die in traffic accidents in five weeks, it warrants little news coverage at all. The Winnipeg Free Press devoted two short paragraphs today on B5, and there has yet to be a response from either Manitoba Transportation Minister Steve Ashton or Justice Minister Andrew Swan.
Unfortunately, last month was not particularly unusual. On average, 104 people die each year on Manitoba roads, according to Manitoba Public Insurance . This is fully double our province’s homicide rate.
We have become inured to the suffering this statistic represents, but we should not accept this grim toll as inevitable.
Forty-five years ago, Ralph Nader criticized what he called the “traffic safety establishment” for pouring blame on the carelessness of drivers while ignoring the deeper structural causes of automobile fatalities. This establishment still reigns. Automotive stylists continue to design hazards into vehicles to promote higher sales. Since the 1990s, this trend has brought bigger and more deadly vehicles onto our roads, with light trucks surpassing smaller cars in sales, despite higher gas prices. The province’s infrastructure cannot keep pace with the demands placed on it by these behemoths of private transport. After decades of urban sprawl, for the long distance commuter, traffic laws are increasingly seen as nuisance. Meanwhile, Manitobans continue to drink and drive at very high rates, despite ongoing enforcement and awareness campaigns. This acceptance reflects a lack of dependable transportation options in many of our communities.
It is time to shift the focus from changing behaviour to changing our cities and the social structure on which they are constructed. If we built more walkable communities, supported by an integrated public transit system, this high rate of carnage could be cut substantially. First we need to recognize there is a problem before we can mobilize the political will to solve it.