Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Northern roads claimed 70 lives in 2007; Northern health wants the issue addressed by northerners

With final traffic statistics showing a gruesome total for 2007, Northern Health is looking for Northerners to become more active in prevention of what it feels is a major health issue in the region.

The region’s health agency has partnered with a number of agencies in the last two years to form RoadHealth, designed to coordinate public education and crash-prevention activities.

The concerns over the carnage on our roads was outlined in Monday’s Daily News.

Death toll on roads 'unacceptable'
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Monday, January 14, 2008
Pages one and five

Northern Health's Chief Medical Officer voiced his concern last week at the final traffic fatality count for the Northern Health region in 2007.

Dr. David Bowering said the current tendency for residents and government to simply note the number of traffic deaths on Northern roads and move on is something that needs to change.

"Seventy people died on our northern roads last year" said Bowering. "That should be unacceptable. If 70 people in our region died from a virus or epidemic in a single year, it would not be business as usual. There would be a major effort on the part of government agencies and the public to figure out what was going on, what the causes are, and how to prevent it."

Bowering believes health authorities and government need to start looking at motor vehicle crashes as a public health issue, and treat it as a preventable disease. One of his major concerns is how millions of dollars are put into public health planning against a pandemic outbreak of something like the avian flu, while a condition that continually kills hundreds of people a year in B.C. gets relatively little attention.

The final month of 2007 was particularly bad for crashes, with 11 people killed on the roads of Northern British Columbia. RCMP cited winter road conditions as the primary cause in many of the crashes, with drivers either travelling too fast for conditions or not having adequate tires on their vehicles. Other major contributing factors for crashes continue to be drugs, alcohol and speed.

"Our RoadHealth coalition has to set some priorities to address speed, road maintenance and proper tire use", says Bowering. "And we need to engage the other Health Authorities to get on board with us".

The RoadHealth coalition consists of Northern Health, the BC Forest Safety Council, the Ministry of Forests and Range, Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement (CVSE), the RCMP, the BC Coroner's Service, WorkSafeBC and ICBC. These numerous partners have been working together for two years to coordinate public education and crash-prevention activities.

Initiatives include the 'Sharing the Road' media campaign that has reached more than one million radio listeners throughout the province. Other ways the group has spread the message came through various conferences and through the RoadHealth grant program.

RoadHealth is now calling for community groups with crash-prevention project ideas to put forward grant proposals. RoadHealth will be issuing funding after receiving applications by the Jan. 24 deadline. This is the third year that RoadHealth and Northern Health have offered $5,000 grants, and this year's $60,000 worth of grants will bring the three-year total invested in northern communities for crash prevention to $180,000.

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