I’d like to start off this op/ed piece with a bit of a disclaimer: I am not the kind of person who cynically ignores the misfortune of others. I’m a believer in supporting the community and at points in my life I’ve volunteered up to four or five nights a week with the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, 4-H and other groups. With that said, let’s proceed.
Last November I, like I’m sure a lot of people, watched in shock as news reports detailed the death of Calgary Greenaway MLA Manmeet Bhullar along a Highway #2 roadside. On Nov. 23, during the first big snowstorm of the season, Bhullar apparently was driving on Highway #2, saw another motorist in distress in the ditch and decided to stop to help. A few moments later Bhullar was dead after an 18-wheeled truck struck him.
The incident sort of reminded me of an incident I had early in my journalism career, something that suggested how dangerous it can be to tempt fate on a highway. I was working in a village in B.C. called Nakusp, south of Revelstoke. I had gone to a head-on collision on a primary highway in winter, and the asphalt was coated in frozen rain so slippery even with high-grip hiking boots, I could barely move on it. As I approached an RCMP officer I knew at the crash scene, a pick-up came around the mountain curve and lost control, sliding sideways at the two of us standing on the road. Luckily, the truck regained control. The incident made an impression on me…you don’t know what’s going to come around that corner in bad weather.
A couple years later I was working at a newspaper in southern Alberta and was discussing a car crash with the RCMP commander Sgt. Pete Sopow. Pete gave me some really solid traffic advice. He advised that, when driving on a divided highway, if you’re in the fast or left-hand lane, don’t just sit beside other traffic, especially large commercial vehicles because, literally, anything can happen and it will happen at a really high speed. Pete told me about a crash he went to on a divided road where a car was driving beside an 18-wheeled truck, cruising in the same direction, when a tire on the truck exploded…right next to the head of someone in the car’s backseat.
Other police friends I’ve had also mentioned the fact that, during a car collision, bad storm or other highway problem, motorists stopping to help don’t really help, they just get in the way and create a further hazard to everyone. That’s where the “tow ban” philosophy comes from. There’s a point past which it becomes so dangerous for anyone on the road in those conditions, everyone just has to sit tight and wait out the storm.
Most of us aren’t mechanics or collision experts; when we approach someone on the highway who’s in trouble, what realistically can we do for them?
The vast majority of people have their own cell phones now, and everyone knows that 911 is the emergency number to call. Also, in a snowstorm such as Bhullar faced, if a car is high-centered in the ditch, nothing short of a tow-truck driven and operated by someone who knows what he or she is doing will be able to help. There was nothing Bhullar could have done for them, or at least, whatever help he could offer was not worth risking his own life for.
In a situation like that, there’s nothing wrong with passing by. But I have to admit I admired Bhullar’s courage and compassion to stop and help someone he didn’t even know.
Stu Salkeld is the new editor of the Leduc/Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.