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More highway cops, cameras, fencing could curb Cowichan's high-crash rates

Duncan fire crew assess the damages while rush hour traffic snarled at the intersection of Trans Canada Highway and Trunk Road for about an hour when a Jeep and a GMC Jimmy collided at around 5 p.m. on Friday Dec. 13. There were no serious injuries in the incident. - Andrew Leong
Duncan fire crew assess the damages while rush hour traffic snarled at the intersection of Trans Canada Highway and Trunk Road for about an hour when a Jeep and a GMC Jimmy collided at around 5 p.m. on Friday Dec. 13. There were no serious injuries in the incident.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

More cops, highway cameras, animal fencing, and citizens reporting lawbreakers could help soften stats showing Cowichan's highways are among B.C.'s least safe, our top highway patrol officer says.

RCMP Sgt. Andrew Dentoom admitted he hadn't seen the recent transport ministry-ICBC study listing crash figures about the risky Victoria to Nanaimo, and Duncan-Lake Cowichan stretches. They're just two island turnpikes he and his eight busy officers do their best to patrol.

But Dentoom sure was familiar with local hotspots cited in the sweeping report.

"Historically, Lake Cowichan highway has one of the biggest factors in collisions with animals."

He lamented his lack of officers to more effectively slow motorists, and prevent deaths.

"Basically, we don't have the resources we had many years ago. We go to enforcement; it's strategic — we look for high-crash areas and do enforcement on causal factors. The big thing is harm reduction."

Boosting roadside check stops in suspected drunk-driving zones is another weapon.

"We try and do road checks, or we'll address speed there."

Dentoom damned distracted drivers too — welcoming folks calling 911 with licence plates of drivers using handheld devices.

"In downtown Duncan, it's cellphones, so we do enforcement. With some things, there's not a lot we can do, like when deer or elk start crossing the highway."

Dentoom applauded highway fencing along Highway 19 from Qualicum Beach to Campbell River.

"That's something we don't have on Hwy 18. In general, in the whole crash picture the municipalities (highways) are by far the worst," he said of Victoria and Nanaimo.

Despite the report, Mill Bay through Cowichan "isn't too bad."

And the hazardous Malahat has been helped by recent multi-millions in concrete medians, quelling crossover crashes.

"Since median (installation) has been up, and more coming, the possibility of head-ons are almost non-existent now," he said. "The Malahat's a beautiful drive; it's still the drivers.

"The ministry has helped us incredibly, but now we can't do a U-turn and go after (scofflaws)."

His thinly stretched troopers can use all advantages possible.

"We try to do piece work: hit the Malahat then Cassidy, then the West Shore. We hit hard, and try to leave an impression," he said. "We're trying to do everything with very little."

Bigger fines for speeding, cellphone use and other crimes could help too — but not replace more cars on the highways.

"Traffic cameras could never hurt in my opinion, but enforcement is different on the 'Hat. We need an appropriate place to pull over and not affect the flow of traffic," he said.

More tickets "are always a deterrent and wouldn't hurt, but more enforcement would be a better idea — and you'd get revenue with twice the impact."

What's Dentoom's ideal number of highway officers?

"As many as possible."

The report shows Victoria-Nanaimo has a .56 collision rate, a 90-km speed, divided and undivided areas, 22,000 daily traffic with four percent truck traffic, and 1.09 wildlife hits. Victoria-Renfrew has a .71 collision rate. It sees 13,300 vehicles in average daily traffic. The Duncan to Lake Cowichan's collision rate is .68 across 28 kms, taking 3,300 vehicles daily.

With a 2.06 collision rate, B.C.'s most dangerous span is Anahim Lake to Bella Coola. That undivided, 134-km, two-laner handles just 100 vehicles daily.

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