In highway engineering parlance, they’re known as “wrong-way movements,” a neutral term for a ghastly scenario — mistakenly driving down the wrong side of a highway.
Though statistically rare, wrong-way movements are most serious on divided highways due to high speeds.
At least twice in the past six months, motorists driving east on the Trans-Canada near the Yellowhead exit have come face-to-face with others headed in the wrong direction.
Brian Mitchell had a near miss two weeks ago. He considers himself fortunate to be alive after another motorist in the oncoming lane tipped him off. “A nanosecond” before a vehicle headed the wrong way passed him, he pulled into the right-hand lane.
Kirk Galbraith wasn’t so lucky last Canada Day.
“I’ve never been in that much horror and pain in my life,” he recalled six months later. “It was unbelievable.”
Galbraith was headed for a golf game, merging onto the freeway at the Yellowhead exit, when the collision occurred. He pulled out to pass a slow-moving pickup truck.
“As soon as I passed him in the passing lane, there was this couple from Bella Coola,” he said. “I hammered on the brakes and slid a little bit, but it was still head-on.”
Had he been travelling full speed, the crash could have proven fatal for both parties. As it was, Galbraith’s Jeep was so mangled — his right foot was caught in the floorboard — that he couldn’t get out. His left heel was smashed into 40 pieces.
“Then, poof, a fire starts around my right foot.”
In the moments before rescuers helped free him, Galbraith suffered third-degree burns to his leg. He also suffered a broken tibia. The small business owner spent four weeks in hospital and is still recovering from the accident. He walks with a distinct limp — his left leg is now shorter than his right.
The two occupants of the oncoming car had only minor injuries. They turned onto the Trans-Canada from Comazzetto Road. Left-hand turns onto the Trans-Canada haven’t been permitted at that intersection for a dozen years.
“It’s pretty clear it’s a no-left-turn,” Galbraith said.
That intersection is considered relatively low-risk, said Mike Lorimer, regional director with the Ministry of Transportation.
“It’s not really standing out compared to other areas.”
However, a safety assessment jointly conducted by the ministry, ICBC and the City is reviewing the entire corridor. The ministry does planning studies and corridor reviews at regular intervals.
“Comazzetto is definitely one of the intersections we’re looking at,” Lorimer said, noting that Valleyview marks the first controlled intersection motorists arrive at after leaving Metro Vancouver.
“The Valleyview corridor is one of the busiest pieces of road through Kamloops, so it always gets our attention,” he said.
Police have observed that drunk drivers and out-of-town drivers unfamiliar with local roads are most likely to make wrong-way movements.