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Fewer collisions, more injuries on NWT roads

Jennifer Geens
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 08/06) - There were 12 fewer traffic collisions in 2005 than in 2004, but 37 more people were injured on NWT roads, according to the Department of Transportation.

And wearing a seatbelt could have prevented many of those injuries.

NNSL Photo/graphic

The NWT had a record number of vehicle collisions with animals in 2005, according to the Department of Transportation. - Jessica Klinkenberg/NNSL photo

"The evidence is plain," said Bob Kelly, manager of public affairs and communications for the department of transportation.

According to the department's 2005 Traffic Collision Facts Report, only nine per cent of accident victims wearing a seatbelt were injured, compared to a 33 per cent injury rate for people not wearing seatbelts at the time of an accident.

"We have a low compliance rate in seatbelt use," he said. "That message has not gotten home."

Most collisions in the NWT occur on dry pavement, in daylight, under good weather conditions. Driver error was a factor in 67 per cent of all collisions in 2005.

Kelly said there are three factors that commonly contribute to accidents in the NWT: speed, alcohol and inexperience.

In December 2004, new legislation gave police the ability to suspend the licences of drivers caught with blood alcohol levels between 0.05 and 0.08 for 24 hours on first offence, and 30 days on subsequent offences.

However, the number of collisions in which alcohol was a factor went up by one, to 51 in 2005 from 50 in 2004.

"We still have to get that message out," said Kelly.

In 2005, Drivers between the ages of 15 and 19 were twice as likely to be involved in an accident than were drivers aged 35 to 44.

The NWT introduced a graduated licensing program in summer 2005 which aims to "give new drivers the time and experience to become good drivers," said Kelly.

If the collision was caused by an environmental factor rather than driver error, animals on the road just edged out road surface as the most common cause.

The NWT had a record number of animal collisions in 2005, with 29 reported, said Kelly.

"The hazard posed by bison is quite high," he said.

Autumn is when most bison collisions occur, he said, because there's no snow for the animals to stand out visually against, and the road surface is dry, so people drive faster.

At night, people often overdrive their headlights, he said, meaning the distance their vehicle's headlamps can illuminate is shorter than the distance it will take their vehicle to stop at that speed.

The annual number of accidents has remained steady for the past two years, despite an increase in the number of vehicles and drivers in the territories and Kelly said that's promising.

"We're making progress, but there are areas that need improving," he said.