Chisasibi, April 9, 1999
The Editorial Board
We would like to congratulate Ms. L. Moore, from Waskaganish, for calling attention to what is surely one of the greatest public health problems in Eeyou Istchee. Motor vehicle accidents have taken away the lives of people of all ages, resulting in unbearable suffering for multiple families in our communities. We would like to add some statistics to confirm Ms. Moore’s observations.
From 1987 to 1998, there were 37 deaths due to motor vehicle accidents in our territory. In 1997 and 1998 alone, there were nine deaths. It appears that the number of deaths per year is rising. Other accident victims are more fortunate and survive, but many have serious injuries. There are about 15 people from our territory hospitalized each year as a result of motor vehicle accidents. And like Ms. More pointed out, many others have “close calls,” in which they barely miss serious injury or death.
How can these accidents be prevented? There are multiple factors that may help prevent injury from a motor vehicle accident:
1- Regular maintenance of vehicles: Faulty breaks, tires and steering wheels lead to accidents.
2- Safe transportation for participants in tournaments and other events: Subsidizing rental of buses owned by Cree Nations will avoid teams being crowded in private vehicles with potentially tired drivers.
3- Use of seat belts and child car seats: Seatbelts do save lives. A recent survey in Chisasibi revealed that only 11 per cent of drivers were wearing a seat belt. However, after one week of promoting their use, this number increased to 22 per cent. This percentage would also increase if the police and workers at the community gates performed spot-checks to ensure that everyone is wearing their seatbelts and that all children are in their car seats. Warnings could be given, although the father of a recent car accident victim suggested to me that heavy fines should be immediately imposed. He doesn’t want other parents to go through what he and his family have gone through. The death of his son could have been prevented by a seat belt.
4- Avoiding drunk drivers: Alcohol is a major factor in many accidents, and we all have a responsibility to prevent intoxicated people from driving a car.
5- Road maintenance and design: Dangerous curves and rises, poor signs, loose gravel and icy road all contribute to accidents.
6- Driver responsibility and education: Speeding and driving when overtired are easy traps to fall into. Through the media, driver education and police enforcement of legislation, we will be less likely to put ourselves and others at risk.
It is clear that to prevent motor vehicle accidents, many measures have to be taken, by many people. Change takes time, but with an increasing number of deaths on the road, it is a priority to work together to prevent the tragedies that are in store for the rest of the year. The statistics predict that in 1999 there will four or five deaths on the road. It could be us, or any of our family members. Ws can beat the statistics by acting now. Please contact us, the public health team of the Cnee Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, for any suggestions on how to work together.