Local communities and politicians are raising concerns after three fatal vehicle crashes that have killed five people this year on a section of Highway 5 north of Kamloops, B.C.
On March 1, a pickup truck side-swiped another pickup truck towing a trailer between Little Fort and Clearwater before crashing head-on with an SUV. The incident killed three people and left two seriously injured.
It followed two deadly crashes on the same highway in February.
Police have reported a total of nine vehicle collisions with casualties — including five fatalities and four injuries — within the first three months of 2023 along the stretch of highway.
Local residents and politicians, like Clearwater Coun. Ken Matheson said the amount of collisions, injuries and deaths on the roadway is troubling.
"It hits viscerally, right in your guts," he said following the March 1 collision.
Fatal crashes on Highway 5 in 2023
Highway 5 crashes gaining attention
B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said he's concerned about the growing number of deadly vehicle crashes along the roughly 40-kilometre stretch of Highway 5 between Kamloops and Clearwater.
He has promised to look into additional safety measures, including stepped-up traffic enforcement, lowering speed limits and making dashcams mandatory on commercial vehicles,
"Anytime there is a fatality, it's obviously tragic for family and loved ones," Fleming said following the second fatal crash last month.
ICBC hasn't been able to provide data on car crashes from January 2022 to February 2023, but according to data from 2017 to 2021 currently available on its website, roughly 10 casualties — including deaths and injuries — were recorded annually along Highway 5 between Black Pines and Clearwater, respectively 30 kilometres and 110 kilometres north of Kamloops.
The agency's data on crashes on Highway 5 doesn't specify in which months they happened, but other data suggests the deadly collisions are from a range of dates within a single year.
Three months into 2023, there have already been three vehicle crashes, with four people injured and five killed.
What's behind the danger?
Barriere Mayor Ward Stamer attributes the deadly collisions to weather conditions, drivers speeding on Highway 5, and a roughly 40-kilometre stretch of Highway 5 outside of Kamloops where the roadway narrows from four lanes to two.
"All of a sudden, you're just on a regular two-lane highway, and you're getting into some rock cuts and fairly winding, twisty roads," Stamer said last month.
ICBC data shows that during the five years from 2017 to 2021, speeding was the second top cause of fatal collisions (148 victims) — after distracted driving (149 victims) — across B.C.'s southern Interior.
Weather and road conditions, such as ice and snow, claimed 106 deaths in the region during those five years, according to the insurer.
Deaths in fatal vehicle collisions across southern B.C. Interior, 2017-2021
But Jim Nagel, who has been driving with Kamloops-based transportation company Arrow for four decades, said the lack of law enforcement along Highway 5 is a major reason behind the deadly crashes in recent months.
"When I first started in this business in the late '70s and the early '80s, there were police everywhere — you couldn't go anywhere without seeing a police car," Nagel said. "[Now] they're like ghosts — they only show up when the crashes happen."
Const. Mike Moore, a media relations officer for the B.C. Highway Patrol, says it's "highly speculative" to attribute the recent car crashes on Highway 5 to speeding and lack of law enforcement alone when there are other factors, such as the driver's state of mind and the vehicle's condition.
He says just because you can't see the enforcement doesn't mean it's not there.
"When conducting enforcement, sometimes officers have to be selective on the locations that they choose. These locations are chosen with officer and public safety in mind, and sometimes police vehicles aren't always immediately visible to passing motorists."
What can be done to improve safety?
Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell argues there should be more RCMP officers enforcing traffic law along Highway 5 and stressed the importance of having B.C. Highway Patrol police officers stationed in Clearwater and Kamloops— instead of having them dispatched from Kelowna or elsewhere.
Some trucking industry professionals are calling for the mandatory installation of dashcams on commercial vehicles. It's a suggestion Fleming said he would consider after consultation with the information and privacy commissioner.