They call it Highway Thru Hell for many reasons.
Princeton Highway Rescue Chief Doug Pateman has seen just about all of them.
Last week ICBC released a new report naming Highway 3 between Princeton and Hope as one of the ten deadliest roads in British Columbia with 24 fatal crashes between 2004 and 2013.
Pateman estimates approximately 85 per cent of all calls for Princeton Highway Rescue originate on Highway 3, west of town.
“We are dealing with the worst,” said Pateman, in an interview with the Spotlight. We are dealing with the worse road conditions, we are dealing with the worst scenarios and we are dealing with the worst levels of stress, at least in my mind.”
Pateman said there is an irony to Highway 3’s deadly reputation.
“Overall it’s a beautiful stretch of road,” he said, explaining that can give drivers “a false send of security, absolutely…You have a wide three and four lane highway, passing lanes and then all of a sudden they end and you come to a hair pin corner. Anywhere else in the province that’s unheard of.”
Improvements to Highway 3, made under the high risk corridor program by ICBC, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and the RCMP, reduced the number of fatal crashes between Princeton and Hope by almost 50 per cent during the new study period. Eleven people were killed on the road between 2008 to 2012, compared with 20 people killed between 2003 and 2007.
Some of those improvements included the installation of LED chevrons and curve warning flashing lights, centre line rumble strips, line painting and higher reflective signs.
According to Pateman driver error will always been the main causes of collisions on Highway.
“When a signs says ‘Slow to 50’ on any other highway you can probably do 10 over and it’s a nice comfortable corner. From Hope to Princeton if it says slow to 50 you’d better slow to 50.”
It’s also crucial, he said, to adjust to weather conditions. “If it’s wet, drive like it’s slippery, if it’s slippery, drive like it’s icy and if it’s icy stay home.”
With 24 years on the rescue squad Pateman has attended many horrific scenes, some involving local families. “I’m not going to talk about it…I have done calls that if you are lucky you only see on television.”
That is a genuine possibility, as the Hope-Princeton road is one of the featured locations for Discovery Chanel’s popular reality series Highway Through Hell, which is currently filming its fourth season.
Pateman also sits on Princeton town council, and said the proximity of the deadly road has a unique effect on the town. “You know what, it’s not great publicity but because people have seen it on TV, everybody wants to drive the Highway Thru Hell.”