RCMP traffic services division concerned about increase in fatal collisions

A flipped over car sits in a ditch along Hwy 2 north of Prince Albert as part of a MADD display warning about the dangers of impaired driving. -- Herald file photo.

The head of the Saskatchewan RCMP Traffic Services Division is raising the alarm about the increase in fatal traffic collisions this fall.

RCMP statistics show 22 fatal collisions in RCMP jurisdiction between Sept. 1 and Oct. 25. Those collisions resulted in 26 deaths.

RCMP Superintendent Grant St. Germaine said that’s a dramatic increase from the 36 total collisions and 38 deaths recorded between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31. Between Sept. 1 and Oct. 25 last year there were only seven collisions in RCMP jurisdiction, resulting in 9 deaths.

“Yes, the number of fatal collisions increased exponentially in recent weeks, and yes, we are concerned,” Germaine said on Friday.

St. Germaine said there is no single geographical “hot spot” or mitigating factor responsible for the increase, which makes it a challenging issue to address. With many collisions, multiple factors are at play. The list including alcohol and drug impairment, speeding, or medical emergencies. Drivers and passengers not wearing seatbelts are also an issue, as are collisions involving wildlife.

Driver impairment is considered a factor in 17 out of the 58 fatal collisions recorded so far in 2023. Of those 17, four drivers were charged with impaired driving, or a charge was recommended. Three involved alcohol and one involved drugs.

Five of those 17 collisions are still under investigation. In the remaining eight cases, the driver died in the crash.

St. Germaine said the increase in fatal collisions not only impacts those involved and their families. It’s also taking a toll on officers and other emergency responders who arrive on scene after the collision.

“Every traffic fatality is a tragedy and our thoughts are with everyone who’s had a loved one die on Saskatchewan roads,” St. Germaine said. “The impact is great on our police officers as well, responding to and investigating fatal collisions. No one wants to, nor can anything prepare you for, delivering a next of kin notification.

“Our officers are not the only ones on scene – there are emergency medical personnel and firefighters, who may also be local volunteers, as well as tow truck drivers, among others. Recognizing there are a multitude of factors related to fatal collisions, our message is to please drive safe on our roads. We want everyone to get home safe.”

Fatal collisions are also an increasing factor in road closures, especially in rural areas of the province. The RCMP have five full-time and part-time collision reconstructionists working in the province, with two on call at any given time.

Saskatchewan RCMP collision reconstructionist Sgt. Jeff Burnett said they’ve traveled more than 13,000 km over the past two months to investigate fatal collisions. The most remote case involved travelling 626 km one way to conduct an on-scene investigation.

“We may be battling adverse weather just to get to a scene – snow, rain, icy roads and more,” Burnett said in a media release. “After we arrive, it generally takes four to six hours to gather evidence, with the time dramatically increasing based on investigational complexity. This can mean road closures last for many hours for critical scene processing.”

Collision investigations can take several months or more as analysts wait for the results of examinations such as toxicology tests. Most fatal collisions that occurred after Sept. 1 are still under investigation. Burnett said many will never result in charges.

RCMP reported 65 fatal collisions and 79 deaths total in 2022. In 2021, RCMP reported 79 deaths from 73 collisions. In 2020, they reported 80 deaths from 71 collisions.

None of those numbers include fatal collisions that occurred on private property or on roads within municipal police jurisdictions like the City of Prince Albert.

A fatal collision occurs ever 2.5 days in Saskatchewan RCMP jurisdiction.