As the mayor of West Kelowna, Doug Findlater is called upon to speak at many public events on behalf of the city he represents.
And at first glance, the ceremony held in the Orchard Park Shopping Centre in Kelowna to mark the Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims was another of those events, organized by West Kelowna lawyer Paul Hergott, also a Kelowna Capital News columnist on civil litigation issues related to road accidents.
But the gathering of more than 100 people on a cold November evening was one Findlater didn’t want to miss, because he is an accident victim himself and still lives with the trauma and physical impact of that lifechanging event to this day.
Speaking at the ceremony, Findlater recalled how he became an accident victim, hit by an impaired driver in the evening while making a left turn from St. Paul Street onto Bernard Avenue.
“It was March 27, 1981 when an impaired driver hit me. It was a life altering event. One I never forget. The firefighters needed the jaws of life to free my from my car and I was hurt bad,” Findlater said.
He was taken to Kelowna General Hospital where he would remain for the next two months, a period that he barely remembers today, and one in which the doctors were not sure if he would survive.
Findlater ultimately had his spleen removed surgically and suffered a fracture to his pelvis which caused nerve damage he still deals with to this day.
“There are days when I feel pain in my leg and I have to wear a brace, but I have adapted my life and tried not to let it stop me from doing what I want to do,” he said, noting he is able to snowboard with his grandkids today at Big White Ski Resort by wearing special snowboarding boots.
“I had a long recovery from my injuries and I was fortunate I worked for the federal government as my job was still there for me when I was able to get back to work. But that one event changed my life forever. There was eventually a settlement paid out by ICBC, but in the end the compensation is just not worth it..”
As mayor, Findlater said he continues to champion traffic safety measures in his city to reduce the opportunity for accidents, citing the left-hand turn signals for intersections along Highway 97, which he says while delaying the progress of traffic may seem like a nuisance, they have effectively stopped the left turn accidents into the opposite flow of traffic caused by impatient or reckless driving.
Hergott said the statistics surrounding motor vehicle accidents on our roads is staggering: A 2014 report said globally some 3,500 people are killed every day in road traffic accidents, 215,000 people are injured; in Kelowna there has been 678 collisions this year.
Hergott said in B.C., every day and a half, someone in British Columbia is killed in a road traffic accident, and every 6 1/2 minutes someone in injured.
“In a 2007 economic analysis study, which will cost more today, a study found the economic impact of people involved in road safety accidents is nine billion dollars per year. That is the annual budget for the ministry of education and half the budget for the ministry of health,” he said.
Hergott said as a lawyer handling civic lawsuits related to motor vehicle accidents, the magnitude of the loss has weighed on him as has the senselessness of each and every crash.
“For each and every file I have handled, the loss would have been completely avoided had the drivers simply driven sensibly and paid attention to the road ahead of them.”