Cross Country Checkup1:53:00FULL EPISODE: Do you feel safe on Canada’s roads and highways?
Chris Sullivan was in the passenger seat while his wife Marla Glaze drove down Highway 401 on their way to Cambridge, Ont., last August. Traffic was thick, but from the passing lane Sullivan noticed something he couldn’t believe from the next lane.
“I was looking out my side, out my window at this gun, and I reached over to my wife. I shook her arm. I said, Marla, slow down,” Sullivan told Cross Country Checkup.
Sullivan says he saw a gun point out of a car next to them. He then saw two gunshots go off in their general direction, though he wasn’t sure if it was aimed at their vehicle.
He then told Glaze to stop because he wanted to get away from the other vehicle, which was slowing down as well.
“It was so crazy that day that nobody really noticed what was going on. That’s what impacted me. People were just driving and people were on their phones,” said Glaze.
She says other drivers were annoyed that she stopped, not knowing the danger they might be in. But all Glaze could think about was the danger the couple and their son, who was in the back seat, were facing.
“For several nights I would wake up, like I was dreaming … somebody was shooting me or the family,” Glaze said of the lingering shock.
According to a tweet by Toronto Police Operations, a man in his 30s was located and arrested in connection with the incident.
Almost a year later, Glaze still feels anxiety when she gets into busy traffic. And she thinks about the incident nearly every day.
Pandemic worsened driving fears, expert says
The psychological fallout from driving accidents can last for years, according to an occupational therapist who specializes in helping drivers rehabilitate their confidence on the road. She says the pandemic has only made things worse.
“People were driving without thinking too much about it before COVID, and then they were home not having to drive. And then they started to think about all the issues that could happen as people went back to work, and that sort of created anxiety for them,” said Kathleen Barnes.
She’s also the clinical director at DriveAgain, a group based in Toronto and Burlington, Ont., that offers rehabilitation programs for drivers overcoming medical or anxiety related issues.
“Some people that I’ve spoken to have just said, you know, I just don’t feel comfortable with the traffic anymore,” Barnes said.
Broadly speaking, traffic fatalities and injuries have declined in Canada over the last 20 years. There was a slight uptick between 2020 and 2021, according to Statistics Canada.
A Travelers Canada survey from 2023 found one in six Canadians report crying while driving. The 1,006 Canadians surveyed answered questions through the Angus Reid Forum, which conducts market research.
Being ready for the drive
Barnes says she often works with people who drive for a living, like truckers or bus drivers, who have seen horrible accidents. It can take them a great deal of time to feel ready to drive again.
Late last year, Jeff Cole, who lives in Barrie, Ont., was first to arrive at the scene of a head-on collision. He stopped to help but found the occupants of the vehicles were deceased.
“People often ask me about, you know, what’s the most dangerous part of your job? And my answer is it was the drive to and from work,” said Cole, a professional pilot who also drives a lot for work.
Cole said he values the work of paramedics and others who respond to roadside emergencies, but wishes there was a larger police presence to enforce the rules of the road.
He said that the Ontario Provincial Police officers who talked to him after what he saw helped him process the traumatic experience. He still had to shed triggers from the memory.
“I had to give away my nice jacket,” he said. Every time he looked at it gave him a weird feeling, because he was wearing it when he arrived on the scene of the accident..
Cole has since improved the medical kit in his vehicle and recommends checking the weather forecast or opting for a less trafficked route with a lower speed limit when gauging the risk of a trip.
He also does a self-check to make sure he’s in a good head space to drive.
“We talk a lot about human factors and it’s something that we deal with a lot in our profession as pilots … ‘Are you ready to drive? Are you fatigued? Are you stressed? Are you angry? Do you need to go?'”
Barnes believes a self-check in is a key thing for everyone to keep in mind, including her clients.
“What I like for them to do is to take maybe five minutes or even two minutes before they decide to go behind the wheel and just prepare themselves,” she said.
If you’re anxious or frazzled behind the wheel, Barnes said the best thing to do is to find a safe spot to pull over safely and calm down or get some distance from a tense moment in traffic.
Impacts of collisions can linger over a lifetime
Some collisions can have lifelong implications for any number of people involved.
In January 1976, Judith Day was driving home from Montreal’s Lachine hospital, where she worked as a nurse — and found herself back there an hour-and-a-half later as a patient.
She says she was among the last cars in a pile up of over a dozen vehicles. The Datsun she was driving was badly damaged.
“My head hit the windshield and broke it,” Day, now 77, told Checkup, which led to 30 stitches and a scar she still has. She says she was wearing a seatbelt, but back then it was just a waist buckle.
Day says she was back at work six weeks later because, at the time, she didn’t have the option to go on long-term disability. She dealt with pains in her neck and muscle stiffness that she says made her physically ill and led to her switching to part-time work.
She remembers going to the impound lot where the wreck of her car was kept after the collision. She overheard a worker there saying that whoever was driving that Datsun didn’t make it.
“Oh yeah? That was me,” she replied.
She credits her colleague, a surgeon at the hospital, for giving her a reason to get back on the road. They went to the lot together to say goodbye to her car, and to pick out a new one.
But even now, Day says she will never forget the terrible incident.
“I was not the same after that car accident in 1976. Never the same after.”
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