Nfld. & Labrador

Deaths from centre-line crashes drop from 2019, but numbers still 'concerning': RCMP

The RCMP are reminding people that distracted driving takes many forms, including texting. People eating while behind the wheel, or taking off a coat, or tuning the radio can also create split-second distractions that can have catastrophic impacts.

'The driver has the biggest responsibility,' says N.L. RCMP media relations officer

Cpl. Jolene Garland, media relations officer for RCMP Newfoundland and Labrador, says despite the decrease in head-on crashes so far in 2020, distracted driving remains a concern. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

While the number of people killed in centre-line car crashes is down so far this year compared with 2019, the RCMP are urging people to crackdown on all distractions while behind the wheel. 

In 2019, 16 people died in that particular type of crash — when a vehicle crosses the centre of the road into the opposing lane. Five of those killed were not wearing seatbelts. 

So far in 2020, seven people have died, according to statistics provided by the RCMP for crashes that occur within the force's jurisdiction. One of the people who died was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. 

Despite the drop in the number of deaths, RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Jolene Garland, said the figures are still "concerning."

"We factor in human error in a vast majority of these cases, No. 1 being distracted driving," said Garland. "The driver has the biggest responsibility in all this."

Police are seen at the site of a November 2019 fatal crash near Norris Arm. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

She said police want people to remember that distracted driving is not just texting while behind the wheel. 

"Oftentimes in a vehicle, people can be bent down picking up an item that they dropped. Children in the back, trying to get attention," she told CBC News.

"Anything that shifts the driver's focus from the primary task at hand, which would be driving — two hands on the wheel and eyes forward."

Other distractions? Eating while driving, adjusting the radio or taking off a heavy winter coat.

Just put the phone down

Garland said it's important for people to change their behaviour, and their thinking. 

"Sure, you can put down your phone while passing a police car, pick it back up again, continue texting or whatever you're doing. The ticket is not what they should be worried about. It's causing death or injury, to themselves or to somebody else should be the main focus, " she said. 

"With the exception of a medical incident while someone is driving, these deaths are preventable or avoidable."

Texting while driving, as depicted in this photo illustration, is just one way people get distracted behind the wheel. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Driving while impaired is also a concern, she said. 

"In 2019, we had four out of 10 incidents with impairment as a factor," said Garland. "We get reports after the fatalites. Those toxicology reports come back and they do show us that alcohol and drugs still continue to be a factor in our fatal collisions."

Driver fatigue is harder to directly associate with statistics, but it, too, is a factor, according to Garland. 

'The only pattern is that there is no pattern'

Garland said speaking to the media is one way police try to remind people about the importance of taking responsibility while behind the wheel, and doing everything possible to drive safely. 

"Unfortunately the only pattern is that there is no pattern [for crashes]. Nothing is showing up with our data to say a time of day, a time of night, a location. There's really no rhyme or reason.… These incidents are happening throughout the province, throughout the year, throughout the day," Garland said. 

"Drivers need to consider the ones waiting at home for them and the consequences their death will have on those people: children, parents, spouses. A huge loss for those left behind," Garland said.

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