Emergency crews call it “NASCAR Corner,” where two northbound lanes on the Malahat Drive merge to one, and where a scene of carnage played out on Sunday just before noon.
For reasons that aren’t yet clear, a southbound Honda SUV veered into the oncoming lane and collided head on with a pickup truck. Three Nanaimo women in the Honda died and five other people were injured.
Malahat volunteer fire chief Rob Patterson called this the worst crash he’s seen – and he should know. He and his crew have bore witness as first responders to a number of fatal and largely preventable head-on collisions over the past few years.
Under pressure from a growing death toll and a vocal campaign by safety activists in the Cowichan Valley, the provincial government has committed about $8 million to install 5.4 kilometres of concrete barriers in high-crash areas of the Malahat by the spring of next year.
Barriers, as useful as they are to curb head-on collisions, are only part of the solution to creating a much safer mountain highway pass between the Capital Region and Cowichan.
Geographical limits and high costs prevent substantially widening the roadway or building another route around the Malahat. The highway we have now is the road we’re stuck with for the foreseeable future.
That leaves the solution of lining the road with barriers and ramping up law enforcement.
Creating a dedicated Malahat police patrol was recommended by the Capital Regional District’s Integrated Road Safety Unit, which mounted a concentrated, daily campaign to crack down on speeders, and drunk and distracted drivers during the summer of 2011.
So far, funding a permanent Malahat patrol is an expense the police and province aren’t willing to foot.
Even if this latest crash wasn’t speed-related, it’s another reminder that the highway can be dangerous, and the transportation route can be severed in an instant, often for hours.
With closures, fatalities and crashes, over the long run, the most cost-effective option is placing patrols on the Malahat full time.