December 19, 2015

Last night my son did not die

This is a different kind of post from what I usually talk about here. Today I'm writing a very personal post because I'm so incredibly thankful my son is alive and safe.

We live in a part of BC with roads that can be terrible, roads that are often completely ignored by the road maintenance crews. The exception for our lack of road maintenance is usually after a severe accident, especially after someone has died.

My heart goes out to the families of everyone who has died needlessly from something so preventable.

Last night my son did not die. Whether it was due to his presence of mind while he was upside down and submerged underwater and trapped in his seat belt, or it was just luck, or something bigger than all of us was watching over him, I don't know. Somehow he is still with me today.

This is the situation he found himself in while driving approximately 20 km/hr. And what he got  himself out of. Somehow.

In this next photo you can see the passenger window, his escape route. Take a moment to imagine. You'll need to start by envisioning complete blackness, because it was nighttime. The driver's side was submerged in mucky, stinky, ice-cold water, covering my son's head. He had to get his feet onto the ceiling of the truck so he could get the tension off the seat belt to unfasten it. Then maneuver to the passenger side and then find and open the window, despite being disoriented because the truck was upside down.

The tow truck driver told us that most people panic and can't even realize which direction is up, let alone go through all the steps required to escape from an overturned vehicle in the water, in the dark. Most people in this situation die.

I can only imagine what he must have gone through.

Half the time I can't find the door latch of my own car in the dark when I'm perfectly calm. My son has a good head on his shoulders. He got out.

I'm a lucky mom, right?

But he didn't have to go off the road in the first place.

He was doing all the right things. He has good winter tires. He carries weight in the back of the truck. He was driving at a reasonable speed for the conditions.

The truth is that a few dollars' worth of gravel would have prevented this. A concrete barricade would have prevented this. The truth is that roads beside irrigation ditches are too dangerous not to maintain.

Combine icy roads with sharp corners and irrigation ditches and zero road maintenance, and you inevitably end up with vehicles upside down in the water. With people in them.

It seems a no-brainer to me that there should be some kind of timely maintenance going on. Barricades on the corners, maybe? But what do I know? I mean, I value life over road maintenance dollars, I must be uninformed or something.

Obviously, being a writer, I turned to words. I spoke on the phone last night to someone at YRB, the contractor responsible for road maintenance in the Creston area, and I was told that Reclamation Road was "on the list." I spoke to YRB again this morning when a sand truck still had not come. Twelve hours (and a second car accident) after my son went in that irrigation ditch, a sand truck finally came and sanded not only the corners but the entire road.

This event reminds me very much of the winter a woman died in much the same way... the roads were not maintained at all, and then they were for a few months after her death... and then not at all. Something awful has to happen before YRB will mete out a handful of gravel.

I've spent some time talking to various people about YRB's company policies, and some interesting themes have come to light. People who care talk. Of course, due to strict nondisclosure agreements, nobody wants to make public statements about YRB.

Here is what I've learned:

The road maintenance company is well insured, and it's more economical to deal with lawsuits than to adequately maintain the roads.

The road maintenance company's employees receive bonuses for not using the blades on the plow trucks.

The road maintenance company's employees receive bonuses for not using sand and salt.

The road maintenance company's policy of valuing money over lives disgusts caring, conscientious employees, who then leave the company, resulting in an alarmingly high proportion of uncaring, unskilled workers on the maintenance crews.

Is this true?

It's certainly worth looking into, don't you think?

What you can do to help:

Please join me in letting BC's Minister of Transportation & Infrastructure, the Honourable Todd Stone, know that road maintenance is not the place to be cutting budget dollars, and that we need transparency in the policies of government-paid contractors. Click here to send a tweet to Todd Stone. Feel free to post the link to this blog post.

You can also share this post on the YRB Twitter page.

Thank you for reading today. I appreciate that you care enough to read such a long post. (Please forgive any typos; I didn't get a lot of sleep last night.)


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