Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Highway of Denial

Photo credit to Huffington Post Alberta

I could engage in some ranting, I suppose, but I just don’t have the energy anymore. I have written about it, done interviews about it, discussed it, lost sleep over it and had it consume not just hours or days but weeks of my life. It seems no matter what I say – what anyone says – it keeps happening.

People keep dying on Highway 63.
In the past two weeks four individuals have lost their life on the stretch of highway that has become famous – or rather infamous – in our country. Less than a week ago I travelled the highway just after it reopened after yet another of these tragic, senseless deaths that rip apart families and tear at the fabric of our community.

There are those who blame the highway, and while twinning will almost certainly reduce the number of head-on collisions and the likelihood of resulting fatalities it will not address the other factor seen on this highway – and if we are honest we all will admit to having seen it, if not engaged in it.
Unsafe driving behaviour is rampant, and over my thirteen years driving that highway I have seen more close calls that I can recount. Speeding, driving too fast for conditions, unsafe passing, aggressive driving, inattention, fatigue and sadly even driving when under the influence of drugs or alcohol are far too commonplace. Just this week someone told me the tale of almost being struck by another vehicle, and watching the police apprehend a driver who was too intoxicated to even exit their vehicle in a dignified way, more "pouring out" of it than stepping out to rest their feet on that stretch of asphalt.

We can blame the highway if we want, decry the length of time it took to secure the commitment to twin it. Or we can acknowledge that while there may be some truth in that the real truth is that we are killing each other and ourselves on that highway. We can deny this all we want, but denial, as they say, isn’t just a river in Egypt. In this case denial is instead a river of tears cried over a small highway in northern Alberta where far too many fragile lives have been lost.
I read on social media how it is the highway to blame, how somehow that stretch of road has reached up to pull us down into it, ending our lives as if it is some living, breathing malevolent force. But it isn’t, of course. It is just a road, and while it may have some imperfections it is the imperfections of those who travel it that cause the majority of these collisions – and these deaths. If we are to be quite frank the twinning is necessary not because it is a bad road, but because we are far too often bad drivers who need to be protected from each other and ourselves.

The highway has seen an incredible increase in traffic, that is true, and so the twinning makes sense for this reason as well. But as the increase in traffic has developed a corollary decrease in our patience seems to have happened, too.  Just at the time when we need to exercise the most caution and patience we seem to have lost it entirely, putting ourselves at even greater risk.
I too am anxious to see the highway twinning complete. I am not naive enough to believe it will end all collisions or fatalities on Highway 63, though, because I know that there are those who will continue their unsafe behaviours and continue to put us all at risk. I believe it will help to staunch the flow of tears – and blood – on that highway but it will not cause it to cease entirely.

I don’t have the ranting in me anymore, you see. All I have now is a deep sense of sadness every single time I hear the words “accident on 63” and a dread of the news that I fear will almost certainly follow. I wish I knew the solution. I don’t. All I know today is that it has happened again.
All I know is that today there is grief and sorrow and sadness, a feeling that has become all too familiar when hearing the words “Highway 63”. All I know is how sad and weary I am of it all.

I have come to think of Highway 63 not as the Highway of Tears or even the Highway of Death as external media often suggests. I see it as the Highway of Denial, where we deny we have any complicity in what happens there, preferring to blame anyone or anything but ourselves. How easy it is to blame a stretch of road - and how difficult it is to shoulder the blame ourselves and realize that our denial is slowly and inexorably killing others - and ourselves.

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