Sgt. André Pepin is the co-ordinator of the RCMP's traffic services in New Brunswick. The 29-year RCMP veteran is trained as a collision reconstructionist to investigate car accidents, a radar technician to catch speeders, and is a certified breath technician to identify alcohol-impaired drivers. He spoke with Amelia Thatcher to share safe driving tips.
What are the biggest driving hazards?
Nowadays, distracted driving is a big issue. Everyone has a cellphone, so we always look to see if drivers have an electronic device in their hands. Each province has different laws, but in New Brunswick you can't have electronic devices in your hands at all while driving, whether it's on or not. Impaired driving is also a big hazard — alcohol or drugs. With the legalization of marijuana, every province is looking at what can be done to increase our police presence on the roads.
What's your most common piece of advice?
Slow down and drive for the road and weather conditions.
Don't drive after drinking or consuming drugs.
If you're tired, get off the road.
Don't use a cellphone or get distracted while behind the wheel.>
Drive defensively — watch out for other people on the road.
We remind people that even if you're driving the speed limit, you can still be driving too fast for the road conditions. A lot of people on highways will see that the limit is 100 km/h and they'll drive 100 km/h or more. But while the limit might be 100, if the road conditions are bad, it can be very dangerous to drive at that speed. Often people in pickup trucks or SUVs think they're safer, but if there's black ice and you have to hit the brakes, you won't be able to stop in time while staying on the road. So our message is always slow down and keep your distance. In bad weather, it could take you longer to stop. So always be alert and ready to stop.
What about in the summer?
In rain, it's the same thing, you can still drive too fast for the road conditions. If it's raining a lot, hydroplaning is dangerous. You have to slow down. You need to adapt your driving with the weather.
What about different types of roads?
On rural roads or city roads where you have more residents, there's a greater chance of something coming out onto the road than on a four-lane highway. There can be lots of hidden driveways and side roads, as well as pedestrians and cyclists. But on the highways you also have to be alert and ready for anything — especially wildlife and other drivers.
When should drivers stay off the roads?
It depends. If they're calling for lots of snow or high winds or tons of rain, stay home. Sometimes cities will even call snowplows off the roads if the weather is bad, and that means the roads aren't getting cleared. One general rule is if you can't see the road, or if the visibility is low, don't go out. Even for police, if there's a really bad snowstorm, I'll tell my officers to stay in the office unless they get a call. Don't risk your life and someone else's life when you don't have to be out on the roads.
Have you ever had any close calls?
When I was a young officer, I was called out to respond to a collision involving a moose at the other side of my detachment area. I had lights and sirens on, and I was trying to get there quickly. It was dark, close to midnight, on a rural road through the woods. Suddenly, I had a moose jump out in front of me. It was so close I'm surprised I didn't hit it. I'm sure it kissed the side of my window when I went by. I wasn't going that fast, but it was faster than the speed limit because I was responding to an emergency call. It really made me realize the importance of slowing down. It's better to arrive late than not at all.