Opinion: Plane tragedy abroad underscores need to prevent BC road deaths

Mar 14 2019, 9:45 pm

Mike Soron is a founding director of Abundant Transit BC. The group is is calling for more government action to stop road deaths in BC.

One hundred and fifty seven people died when Ethiopian Airlines’ Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed on March 11, 2019.

They came from 37 countries. Eighteen Canadians were on the plane. They are all dead. Gone. All the passengers – gone.

“I will do anything to bring her back to me and our son,” Bayih Demessie said of his dead wife to the Al Jazeera network.

“There is nothing I can do to bring her back.”

Nothing can bring these victims back, but governments are now working to stop more deaths.

Literally overnight world governments and transnational corporations were compelled to act. This is the second deadly crash of a 737 Max in five months. Last year, another Boeing 737 crashed and killed 189 people in Indonesia.

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China’s dictatorship was the first big government to ground the aircraft this past week. The UK, Europe, Australia, Malaysia, and other countries quickly followed. Europe simply banned the aircraft from its airspace.

Canada’s Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said: “I’ve cancelled all my meetings and public events today in order to meet with my Civil Aviation Expert Panel.” The next day, he grounded all Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 planes in Canadian airspace.

Protecting people from unnecessary death is what we expect our elected officials and regulators to do. Our institutions — like media and government — are working as expected here. Powerful people are rightly outraged and mobilized by these deaths.

But this only serves to expose a blind spot in how our institutions and culture treat other vehicle deaths. This urgent responses to air travel deaths reveals how little those who are killed by car drivers matter to our decision makers.

In 2017, 298 British Columbians died in vehicle crashes, according to the BC Coroner’s Service. To be very clear, this BC death count is almost twice that of the dead in the Ethiopian plane crash.

Almost half of the British Columbians killed on our roads that year were not driving cars or trucks — they were cyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users, and passengers. Seniors over 75 were the most likely to be killed. Young people were the next most likely.

The dead are our grandparents. Our parents. Our children. Our friends. Our coworkers. Our neighbours.

Yet there is no national emergency. No provincial emergency. No crisis. We hardly mention these deaths. When media does, it may be to blame a cyclist or passenger for not wearing a reflective stripe or not following some cultural norm about deferring to drivers despite what our laws actually say. Police scold those who are killed by drivers for not being more attentive. Schools and parents teach children to fear public spaces and streets.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Alternative solutions are simple, clear, and proven. It’s truly easy to save more lives. Slower speeds. More enforcement. Better street design.

It is not unreasonable to say that no one should die in a plane. Likewise, it is not unreasonable to say that no one should die on our streets.

We need to build the courage to stop all road deaths in British Columbia. The response to these Boeing crashes shows how much more our politicians, media, and regulators could be doing to stop deaths on our highways, streets, and roads.

Demand it.

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