Sometimes being Number 2 isn’t necessarily such a bad thing

Around a year ago, a high-ranking provincial government representative told the Rimbey Review that Highway 20 from Sylvan Lake in the south, past Bentley, around here on the bypass, and by Bluffton, Winfield and Breton, and all the way up to Alsike in the north, was the second busiest single-lane highway in the province.

Around a year ago, a high-ranking provincial government representative told the Rimbey Review that Highway 20 from Sylvan Lake in the south, past Bentley, around here on the bypass, and by Bluffton, Winfield and Breton, and all the way up to Alsike in the north, was the second busiest single-lane highway in the province.

Of course with the omnipresent tailgaters, the plethora of massive semi-truck trailers, the speeders passing up the hills or around the corners on a double line and plenty of other maniacs out there on the highway, anyone with a driver’s license knows full-well that even under the most ideal of circumstances (i.e.: a clear sunny, summer day); Highway 20 is certainly no place to be goofing off. Throw in the abundant amount of critters who like to occasionally dart out of the fields an forests onto the road, plus the extremely narrow shoulders from Bentley nearly all the way to Sylvan Lake, Highway 20 at times, is a fulltime job at best, and at its worst, is a white-knuckled heart attack from one end to the other.

But in all honesty, the same can be said for pretty well any highway in Alberta, and the RCMP and the Sheriff’s Department have the proof.

As part of Operation Impact, a national campaign to make Canada’s roads the safest in the world, the Alberta Sheriff Highway Patrol cracked down on unsafe drivers over the Thanksgiving Day long weekend.

Between Friday, Oct. 10 and Monday, Oct. 13, sheriffs laid 2,798 charges across the province, including: 2,258 speeding violations; 84 seatbelt infractions; 19 child restraint infractions; 14 Gaming and Liquor Act violations; 20 failing to stop at a stop sign infractions; 69 other hazardous violations such as careless driving and stunting. The sheriffs also issued 334 non-hazardous violations like driving with no insurance or with a suspended driver’s license.

They also assisted in the removal of 11 suspected impaired drivers from provincial highways and even arrested four people for outstanding arrest warrants.

In fact, since the inception of the Alberta Sheriff Highway Patrol was created in September of 2006, they have issued 169,801 driving violation, have attended 457 collision scenes and assisted in the arrest of 728 cases of impaired driving, all of which was done by just 105 sheriffs province-wide.

In most cases, being Number 2, is usually a bad thing, but not in the case of Highway 20, especially when you consider what’s been happening on the Number 1 busiest single-lane highway in Alberta – that being Highway 63 from Edmonton to Fort McMurray or as the locals like to call it by quoting heavy-metal monsters AC/DC, the Highway to Hell.

Based on statistics, again supplied by the RCMP and the Alberta Sheriffs Department, Highway 63 makes every other highway in the province – including the Queen Elizabeth II, look like a playground.

In a recent blitz that targeted high-risk driving behaviour on Highway 63, the RCMP and sheriffs checked 304 vehicles that resulted in 278 tickets being issued for various violations including impaired driving, speeding (of course), aggressive driving and seatbelt non-compliance, to name a few.

With a little bit of Grade 10 math calculations that amounts to a staggering 91.4 per cent of the vehicles that were pulled over were in violation of the rules of the road, and there’s more.

In addition to the 278 tickets issued, police also arrested five individuals in connection with nine outstanding Criminal Code warrants and five more individuals who were clocked at more than 150 kilometres per hour, and all of that took place between Oct. 18 and 20 of this year.

It only stands to reason that on a highway like that, there’s going to be an insanely high amount of serious injuries and deaths, and that’s exactly what the numbers indicate.

For example, in 2006, there were a total of 15 collisions on Highway 63 that resulted in 13 fatalities and seven serious injuries; in 2007 those numbers rose to 18 collisions resulting in 22 fatalities and 23 serious injuries and from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 of this year, there have been 16 collisions resulting in six fatalities and 11 serious injuries.

Of course, the development of the oil patch up in Fort McMurray has played a big role in those increases, and it appears that things are going to get worse before they get any better.

According to traffic volume reports, in 2000, Highway 63 averaged 2,060 vehicles per day. In 2002, that number rose to 2,370 per day and in 2006, those numbers increased dramatically again to 3,390 vehicles per day.

Heck, just in the past two weeks there’ve been two more deaths and three more injuries on the highway.

On Oct. 18, police were called to a collision involving a full-sized passenger van and a pickup truck. The driver of the truck was killed and the driver of the van was injured. Luckily, the driver of the van was the only occupant or things could have been much worse.

And just last week yet another collision claimed a life and sent two others to hospital via STARS Air Ambulance and you just know that if they needed an air ambulance, the injuries are very serious or worse.

But there could be a bit of light at the end of the tunnel for those forced to drive Highway 63 as the first 13 kilometres of twinning the highway south between Highway 69 and Highway 881 was recently completed with another three kilometers expected to be finished soon.

Mind you, it probably won’t really help very much. Most likely, you’ll be hearing of vehicles being clocked at 180 kilometres per hour or more on Highway 63 very soon.

In sports and in life, being Number 1 is always a good thing, unless of course, it involves Alberta’s highways.

Sometimes, being Number 2 isn’t necessarily such a bad thing.