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AT ODDS WITH LEGAL AND SAFETY by Nick Nicholson

Regarding highway safety, those who respond, investigate, prosecute or defend, and judge, (the governmental legal profession) probably have the very best opportunity to access the knowledge of what went wrong at a crash scene.  Yet, to my knowledge, that information is seldom shared directly with the safety world who could use it to advise other drivers how to avoid it from ever happening again. I’m speaking specifically in conjunction with the human traffic errors that kill and maim thousands of people every year.

As a result of some hard lobbying, some effort has been introduced for safety reasons into our legal system that definitely saves lives and result in fewer injuries.  Motorcycle helmets and seat belts are two of these that, without the legislation, fewer people would use “common sense” and more would likely die or be maimed by the lack of use.  Further, we need the enforcement aspect because we humans tend to ignore safety in our personal lives. Courts exist to make these same people accountable. It appears that the legal system has no direct link to forward safety recommendations to any particular faction that can implement them.

If you were to ask most individuals, they’d tell you that they think of Nick-2015themselves, as safe drivers. If you ask the same people, what causes all the death and destruction on our roads, they would blame everything from ” idiot drivers”, to “potholes”. If you listen to driver explanations following involvement in a collision, you’ll usually find that denial has already set in and they think everybody else caused their incident. Making excuses, seldom do they admit, “I made a mistake.”

“Safety” defined by the Oxford dictionary states: “in the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury”. (sic) It goes on to say that it considers our welfare, well-being, protection, and security.  Let’s compare safety with some parts of the legal world.

Yes, Traffic Laws are legislated for the protection of the people but, it usually follows a series of deaths or major collisions and a very long fight by some special interest group.
Let’s look at police officers.  Our bogged down system restricts the individual police officer from contributing to safety. Instead, it redirects them to a mandate of strict enforcement clearing the scene and the laying of charges at a crash. Even collision reconstructionists who would probably have the most to contribute to safety are restricted and in reality, only contribute information for the courts. In practice, although they see the causation and think it’s horrible, Police have no power to do anything to prevent it from happening again.

A special interest group of them together may get something enacted such as the “Move Over Law”. Other jurisdictions had that common sense law for years prior to Ontario. Why did we have to wait for multiple police deaths?  Of course, Ontario’s law didn’t go far enough. It should have included anyone stopped on the side of the road – not just responders).

Magistrates, referees in traffic court in most Canadian Provinces, don’t consider the actual safety or prevention aspects of future mishaps. Although they see it day after day in their cases, their singular purpose is to make sure the legal profession follows the rules. What the case is about is not a priority of the system.

There is only one proceeding that I know of that follows a court-like appearance that even considers safety and prevention.  That is an Inquest. Only following a horrific fatal incident will the Coroner call an inquest. An inquest takes place after all legal battles and is meant to focus on causation with the expressed purpose of making recommendations to keep it from happening again. Recommendations are submitted by the Coroner to anyone involved in making policy; political Ministers, Police HQ, child services, etc. If you look at the records, you’ll find that many recommendations made at inquests are ignored unless agitated by public outcry. “You can lead a horse to water but, you can’t make him drink!”

I believe I see a need in our system that could stop a tremendous amount of heartache. If enforcement officers, lawyers, magistrates, firefighters, emergency medical  responders and highway crews had the opportunity to make recommendations right on the spot from a safety perspective, we might be able to create a safer world if they were passed on.

A single question, “Did you see anything at this scene that could have been done differently, mitigating the final outcome? One group deciphering these responses with direct access to the safety world and to government could feed safety solutions for the betterment of our society. Those that care will complete the response question.

Keep your people safe.

The beauty of life is in your hands.
THINK SAFETY …………………….. EVERYWHERE ……………… ALL THE TIME

Source: Oxford Dictionary

About the Author

Nick Nicholson, is a retired safety practitioner who spent many years researching the human behaviour factors of driver and pedestrian actions. Specifically, he spent 25 of those years devoted to highway crash investigations, regulatory compliance, the design, implementation and presentation of safety programs. Nick enjoyed many hours presenting professional driver enhancement training to adult participants.

As a long time Fleet Safety Council Member (1988) and the Founding Chair (1992-1995) of Council’s Hamilton-Niagara Chapter, he presents his opinions in hopes of improving the safety knowledge of readers. Nick is a firm believer in human advancement through positive attitudes, solution thinking and the understanding that the beauty of life is always in your hands.

Old Uncle Nicky’s Opinions are his own and in no way reflect the opinions of Fleet Safety Council.

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