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Hergott: Rear-ender crash every 6 minutes in B.C.

Lawyer Paul Hergott’s weekly column

Was my outrage warranted? Was it fair for a reader to have called her a twit?

She did fail what was plainly there to be seen ahead of her, a red light with fully stopped traffic.

Her victim, the last vehicle in the row of stopped traffic, might never fully recover.

But does the offender deserve ridicule?

With a senseless rear-ender crash every 6 minutes in British Columbia, that’s a lot of twits!

And they’re the tip of a much, much larger iceberg because there is a multitude of inattentive twit drivers for every twit whose inattention causes a crash?

Unfair and unhelpful to ridicule only those whose inattention cause crashes, ignoring the bigger problem.

She didn’t choose to be dangerously inattentive. Nobody does.

She came by it honestly.

When we learn to drive, we are taught all sorts of safe driving behaviours;

1. Do a walk-around of your vehicle and look up and down the street before getting in to back out of your driveway.

2. Be looking under vehicles parked at the sides of the street to watch for the legs of little folks who might dart out.

3. Keep your hands at 10 and 2.

4. Shoulder-check every time.

5. Wait, wait, wait until oncoming traffic is clearly coming to a stop before completing a left turn.

6. Stay off your damned phone.

7. Etc., etc., etc.

But the importance of those safe driving behaviours is not enforced. In fact, just the opposite occurs.

You’re in a hurry and check only your mirrors before backing out of your driveway. The odds were in your favour and a stroller wasn’t being pushed along the sidewalk. You experienced positive reinforcement for your road safety failure.

Your mind is on other things, and you don’t scan under parked vehicles for the legs of little folks. Again, the odds are in your favour. Nothing bad happens. Positive reinforcement for distracted driving.

You shoulder-check most of the time, but sometimes you miss it. Nothing bad happens. And you miss it more and more.

You gradually start reaching for your phone, first when waiting at stop lights but then here and there during light traffic. No crash. You are led to believe that you can drive safely while engaging in telephone conversations and texting.

Our roadways and vehicles have become so easy to navigate and drive that it actually takes precious little attention to get from point A to point B.

99% of the time.

Clearly marked lanes, easy to follow traffic lights and signs, and large bright yellow warning signs.

Heck with texting, you could probably read a physical newspaper during your commute.

99% of the time.

The problem is that the 1% circumstances do occur when inattention leads to a crash.

We don’t make the choice: “I’m going to become an inattentive driver!”.

It’s a gradual, step by step process.

And it’s reinforced. Our increasing levels of inattentiveness are rewarded again and again and again because we make it safely to our destination.

Road safety laws don’t help. They actually compound the problem.

It’s insane, really.

Everyone (I hope!) knows that it’s distracting to engage in a cell phone conversation while you drive. It certainly was common knowledge back before our provincial government passed cell phone driving laws in 2010.

But our political leaders, contrary to a provincial government report that said that there is no difference in the level of distraction between handheld and hands-free cell phone use, chose to ban only handheld cell phone use.

That report is no longer available online. I’d be happy to e-mail it to you.

What loud and clear message did they give to drivers? It’s perfectly safe to engage in cell phone discussions while driving as long as you spend the extra money for hand-free technology.

That messaging leads to the logical conclusion that it must also be safe to engage your brain in other distracting ways as well.

Our police forces go on “distracted driving” blitzes, targeting handheld use. Further reinforcing the message that engaging in a telephone conversation while driving is not “distracting” as long as it’s hands free.

Drives me bonkers.

Anyway, back to the point.

I’ve been an inattentive driver. I’ve been the “twit”.

I remember close calls.

A column I wrote way back in March, 2012, told the story about a horrible crash in Kelowna on March 20th, 2012, when a motorcyclist, his wife on the back, was sitting at a complete stop behind stopped traffic at a red light on Highway 97 in Kelowna.

The driver of an SUV was the “twit” in that crash.

The motorcyclist was killed and his widow suffered serious injuries.

It was just another one of those senseless rear-end crashes that occur every 6 minutes in British Columbia.

I shared a technique a friend of mine used to maintain attentiveness behind the wheel. Jess drives with her hands at “10 and 2” 100% of the time. I said I was going to give that a try myself.

I shared its success in a follow up column a year later.

Quoting myself: “I found that it takes effort to keep my hands at a particular location on the steering wheel. Any time my mind wanders, whether it be thinking about the office, my kids, or whatever the distraction, my hands naturally move to one of those more comfortable positions that most of us end up using after years and years of driving.”

It’s not about an optimal hand position. I had readers e-mail me to complain that I had it wrong, that 9 and 3 is safer, or 8 and 4!

The particular positioning isn’t the point. The point is to have a maintained hand position. If your hands stray, that’s the wake-up call that your mind has wandered.

Try it!

Thank you for being patient with my road safety “distraction”. Finally next week I’ll get back to ways to protect against your estate going to someone else’s kids!

Paul Hergott

Lawyer Paul Hergott began writing as a columnist in January 2007. Achieving Justice, based on Paul’s personal injury practice at the time, focused on injury claims and road safety. It was published weekly for 13 ½ years until July 2020, when his busy legal practice no longer left time for writing.

Paul was able to pick up writing again in January 2024, After transitioning his practice to estate administration and management.

Paul’s intention is to write primarily about end of life and estate related matters, but he is very easily distracted by other topics.

You are encouraged to contact Paul directly at with legal questions and issues you would like him to write about.