Despite pandemic-reduced road congestion, RCMP traffic services report a 35 per cent increase in motor vehicle collision deaths in 2020 compared to the average of the past five years.
Within RCMP jurisdiction (everywhere in the province exempting Winnipeg and Brandon) there have been 28 deaths caused by vehicle collisions since the beginning of the year. The average number of fatalities due to collisions in the same time span — Jan. 1 to May 22 — over the past five years is 18.
"We’ve had a bad start to the year in a number of ways," RCMP traffic services Staff Sgt. Kyle McFadyen said. "And one of them is the number of fatalities we’re experiencing."
Closures and restrictions in recent months have resulted in less traffic and a drop in Manitoba Public Insurance claims, but fatalities haven’t followed the same trend — something McFadyen said is "Obviously, something we need to look at."
"Traffic volumes being lower, one would naturally believe that fatalities should be lower, and it’s just not the case," he said Friday.
"Our officers are seeing a number of things; we’re seeing potentially more excessive speeding incidents with more open roads, per se, but it’s hard to say exactly."
McFadyen said it was "too early" to make projections on the remainder of the year, and stressed there weren’t specific trends in terms of when such accidents are happening.
"It’s not like it’s limited to just evenings, or just certain days of the week — there really isn’t a rhyme or reason," he said. "We’re seeing them spread out among day shifts, mid-week, weekends, evenings, things like that. There’s no real exception."
RCMP are expecting an increase in highway flow as the weather gets warmer and pandemic restrictions are loosened — and with that comes safety concerns.
"With nicer weather, people are getting out more, and people have limited things to do during the pandemic, so a lot of people have turned to taking drives and things like that," McFadyen said. "But what remains is we need people to be sober, we need people to respect the driving rules and to pay attention."
Despite COVID-19 being a possible factor in the increase, McFadyen said making poor choices before getting behind the wheel, be it driving impaired or not wearing a seatbelt, "continues to be a problem" traffic services encounters.
"Our big messaging is just to remind people, these are unprecedented times, but our officers are still out there enforcing the laws, because it’s been shown that we need to."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Friday, May 22, 2020 at 5:36 PM CDT: Tweaks headline.