Ben Honcoop poses for a photo with one of the Ben’s Towing trucks. (File photo)

Shuswap tow truck operator sees high number of collisions this summer

Drivers encouraged to “loosen up behind the wheel, smarten up and read the road”

Increased traffic, impatient drivers and outdated infrastructure.

These are some of the things to which Ben Honcoop, owner of Ben’s Towing, attributes the volume of collisions he’s seen on Shuswap highways this summer.

“This has probably been one of our busiest years…, you bet,” said Honcoop, who has been in the towing business for more than 46 years.

“There’s so much traffic out there these days. I think the biggest problem is the volume of traffic, and people not paying attention to their driving habits.”

The problem of traffic volume, Honcoop explains, is exacerbated by inadequately sized sections of the Trans-Canada Highway.

“The four laning in this area here is probably 10 years overdue,” said Honcoop, adding the Salmon Arm West project currently underway, which will include the replacement of the Salmon River Bridge, will help only so far as the four-laning is extended. “When that little four-lane piece stops in front of us here, until it carries on to the next project, you’re just moving the bottle neck from one point to another.”

What are most concerning spots in the Shuswap for collisions? For Honcoop, the Highway 1/Balmoral Road intersection is one that stands out.

“That intersection, how shall we put this – was a very dumb move on the part of the Highways,” said Honcoop. “They decided just to go with the intersection they have now rather than go with an overpass-type of intersection. Apparently it was budget related, but if you figure how many people have been injured and killed in that intersection, you could probably have built four cloverleafs.

“Also, the speed at that four-lane crossing, 100 kilometres an hour, is too fast. People just don’t have enough time to try and dart across four lanes of traffic when you’re either trying to go to town or come back.”

Other troublesome spots include the Highway 1/Highway 97B intersection, where Honcoop suggests the speed limit should be lowered from 90 to 80 km/h, and the Highway 1/30th Street SW intersection that leads to SmartCentres and Walmart.

“We do a ton of accidents there…,” said Honcoop. “People going into Walmart from the west, coming into town, we see a lot of them there. More so than going the other way.”

Read more: Plan chosen for safety upgrades at Balmoral intersection

Read more: Alcohol suspected behind head-on collision on Highway 1 in Salmon Arm

Read more: New highway markings in North Okanagan expected to slow speeders

Read more: UPDATE: Trans-Canada Highway reopens after fatal collision west of Salmon Arm

Being the Shuswap, weather is also a contributing factor behind collisions. Honcoop notes how even a subtle change in elevation and temperature during winter can make driving treacherous. He’s seen this west of town on Highway 1 near Shuswap Lake Estates and, to the east, between Salmon Arm and Sicamous.

“You gain the altitude right at the Canoe sawmill… In the winter, there’s just that much altitude difference and not as much sunlight, and you’ll get to the top of those S-turns and it will be snowing – while at the Canoe sawmill it could be raining.”

One positive Honcoop is seeing in collisions of recent years is that more people are surviving them. This he attributes to the design of modern vehicles.

“New cars crumple up way faster, but they absorb impact more, which leaves less impact on the human body…,” said Honcoop. “Those are advances in technology and you know what, if our cars were built today as they were in the 1950s and ‘60s, every second crash everybody would be dead.”

Honcoop has seen a number of other positive changes, including the creation of dedicated highway rescue crews (“I can remember 30 years ago when we used to do all that stuff and there was no jaws of life. There was the tow truck and the ambulance people.”), and the addition of concrete barriers on meridians, such as on Highway 97 south of Vernon near the turnoff to Predator Ridge (“fatalities and accidents have gone way down since they put the big divider down the middle there”).

What needs to change now, says Honcoop, are drivers. They need to “loosen up behind the wheel, smarten up and read the road.” And if the province or anyone making decisions regarding local highway safety improvements is in need of input, Honcoop is available.

“Maybe they should come down to the people that are right on the street, doing it every day, and say, ‘hey, what do you think we should do?’ That might be advantageous in future planning,” said Honcoop.


@SalmonArm
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