RCMP Sgt. John Ferguson is the top traffic cop for the region. He is concerned about what some of his statistics for 2015 show.

Fatal crashes down, impaired driving up on West Kootenay roads

Local traffic police saw one encouraging trend in 2015, but lots of others that have them concerned.

Local traffic police saw one encouraging trend in 2015, but lots of others that have them concerned.

In a roundup of annual statistics, RCMP Sgt. John Ferguson of West Kootenay Traffic Services said there were four fatal crashes on local roads last year, down from 11 in 2014, “however four is still too many.”

None was alcohol-related, but Ferguson said impaired driving charges increased by 35 per cent and roadside suspensions related to alcohol increased 100 per cent. Charges of driving while impaired by drugs increased 10 per cent.

“This is an alarming increase,” Ferguson said. “We cannot stress enough the devastation an impaired charge or an immediate roadside prohibition can have on the driver, family or victims of a crash.”

On Boxing Day alone, a single officer pulled over four suspected drunk drivers in the Fruitvale area, which Ferguson called “unbelievable.” Another four drivers were taken off the road on New Year’s Eve.

There was also a 25 per cent increase in drug seizures and 100 per cent increase in drug trafficking charges related to people travelling on local highways. Seatbelt and cell phone-related infractions decreased, although Ferguson said distracted driving remains one of the main causes of crashes.

Charges related to speeding more than 40 km/h over the posted limit increased by 50 per cent. “Slow down and drive to the road conditions, not the posted speed limit,” Ferguson advised.

Ferguson said neither enforcement nor manpower changed with his unit between 2014 and 2015 — in fact it was down slightly due to one officer who was off injured.

He does theorize, though, that some increases had to do with people becoming used to stricter roadside prohibition penalties that came into effect a few years ago. Initially, he said, people were more vigilant, but “now they’re back to not thinking about it.”

Ferguson said questionable driving isn’t isolated to any single part of West Kootenay/Boundary. “If it was just Nelson, going to Playmor Junction, we could easily target that, but it’s the entire Kootenays, not just one specific place,” he said.

“Our patrol’s mandate is to make Kootenay Boundary roads the safest in BC and we will continue to strive to do this through enforcement and education. We need the public as well to understand that adverse actions on the roads can and will affect themselves and others.”