Picture if you will, a chunk of three-lane blacktop, with a fairly steep uphill grade. The speed limit? 110 kilometers per hour – a little over 65 miles per hour. As you roll into the picture, you'll see a "chip truck," or a loaded semi-truck and trailer carrying wood ships, inching its way upgrade in the far right lane, slogging it out at 15 miles per hour. In the center lane, another semi truck, this one making a little less than 45 miles per hour. And in the "hammer" lane? Ah, an RV driven by one Mildred Boizard.
Mildred, who the judge in this story describes as a "timid" driver, is working her way on passing the semi in the center lane. While we don't know what kind of rig Mildred was piloting, court records show she was chugging along at about 52 miles per hour – a full 15 miles per hour or more less than the speed limit.
This all plays out on a stretch of Coquihalla Highway on an August day. The stretch of the road is known as Larson Hill, about 19 miles south of Merritt.
Now entering the picture, a Chevy Suburban. Piloted by one Jed Thu, the Suburban is boiling along "at speeds well in excess of" 80 miles per hour. Evidently Thu saw Mildred Boizard's RV in the left lane, and chose to get around the slow traffic by steering into the right hand lane in an attempt to pass both the RV and the semi-truck in the center lane. Did Thu not see the chip truck in the slow lane? Did he simply misjudge the difference between the chip truck's 15 miles per hour versus his Suburban's 80+ velocity? We don't know.
We do know that when Thu came upon the chip truck, he swerved into the center lane in an attempt to pass it. It didn't work. The solidly built, thoroughly loaded chip trailer met up with the passenger side of Thu's Suburban and peeled the side off the rig like a sardine can lid. Thu lost control and sent the Suburban into a spin. In the ensuing playout of laws of physics, two unfortunate passengers in the Suburban were ejected. They lived, though grievously injured.
So who's at fault here? According to the judge, Jed Thu is "90 percent" responsible for the injuries sustained by his passengers. That leaves the other 10 percent to be unloaded elsewhere, and as you guessed, Mildred Boizard, the RV driver was lumped with the rest of the responsibility. The court record reflects the judge's view, "I find that Mrs. Boizard was a timid driver. She could have driven her camper faster and could have overtaken Mr. Einarson’s tractor-trailer more quickly."
Just how much that ten percent of responsibility due to timidness will cost Mrs. Boizard and/or her insurance company is yet to be seen. The court will rule on a damage award in the future.
It all leaves a lot of open questions. Mildred was driving quite a bit less than the speed limit, true. Still, in her effort to pass the semi in the center lane, she was driving – according to the court's estimates – 7 miles per hour faster than the slower vehicle. How much more power and ability did her rig have? We don't know – and maybe we'll never know.
Still, it is of interest that the province just put in a stronger enforcement bite against road hogs in hammer lanes. In BC, one may not drive in the left lane unless at least one of these conditions is met: You're overtaking and passing another vehicle; you're moving left to allow traffic to merge; or you're preparing for a left hand turn; you're passing a stopped official vehicle displaying red, blue or yellow flashing lights, such as: police cars, ambulances, tow trucks, maintenance or construction vehicles.
It would seem Mildred met one condition – she was overtaking and passing a slower moving vehicle.
Still, the new BC law is pretty much common sense. As much as it can chap one's hide to watch scofflaws zip passed on the freeway, leaving speed-limit-drivers in the dust, sitting in the left lane can create major traffic issues, sometimes with consequences more serious than a speed-demon's hot collar. Down in the Lower 48, at least 40 states have so-called "slow poke" laws regulating when you may or may not be in the "left" lane. Here's a link to look up information on these laws. http://www.mit.edu/~jfc/right.html