April 22, 2013


Written by Spencer McDonald

Crossroads of Life and Death


I never made a conscious decision to take up this line of work. In fact, it all happened by chance and coincidence as so many of life's bigger decisions do; you reach a crossroad, a path opens up and you think; why not?

I was working in a motorcycle shop and had been laid off. It was my last day at work, and an hour or so before I walked out for the last time, Ted walked in. Ted was a customer and a friend. We had attended the same high school (Terry Fox in Port Coquitlam, BC) but he was several years older than me and I didn't really get to know him until he started to buy motorcycles from the shop for his riding school.

Ted was an exceptional driving and motorcycle riding instructor. He had spent years at the BC Safety Council as a chief instructor in the heavy truck and the motorcycle training program, and had run his own driving school before moving on to working as a senior driver trainer at Canada Post. He was the first person in BC to hold instructor licenses for all classes of licence. Ted was a family man; a devoted husband to Dorothy and a great father to his three youngsters. Everybody liked Ted.

He suggested, that since I had no prospects at that point, that I check out the riding school at the Safety Council as they were always on the lookout for prospective new instructors. I went there the next day, got hires and the rest is, as they say, history. Without Ted's suggestion my life would have gone in a completely different direction. It was 1984.

My career in road safety started with teaching people to ride motorcycles, part-time, thanks to Ted. But this story isn't about me, it's about him.

stop-sign[1]Early one morning in 1989, the rang and I got the news.

Ted had been killed in a car crash the night before. Also killed were two of his kids; Jason and Jennifer. His wife, Dorothy was in intensive care and Ben, his youngest son was in hospital too. Later that day, Dorothy died. Eight year old Ben was the only one left and he went home from the hospital with his aunt and uncle to live with them.

The four-way stop intersection where it all happened is in South Surrey, BC, where a drunk driver ran the side street stop sign. Speed estimate from the police was she was going 110 km/h at the moment of impact. Ted took the full hit right in the driver door.

They didn't stand a chance.

Good drivers always check intersections before entering; looking left and right and back left again because that's where the first danger will come from. Ted was not only an expert driver, he was an instructor trainer; the guy who trained the teachers! If anyone would check intersections, he would.

So what happened? Your eyes are your first line of defence. Did Ted screw up? Did he forget to check and clear that intersection? Were the sight lines just really bad and he couldn't see? We will never know.

What is certain is that if he had seen her coming, he would have sat still, foot on the brake and watched her blast through that intersection. He would have arrived home safe that night with his family and an exciting story to tell about a crazy driver running a stop sign.

But he didn't see her.

The funeral was surreal: there were friends, family, business associates; more people than the church would possibly hold. And four caskets. Two of them very small.

The young lady that hit them had no previous serious traffic violations and certainly no previous history of impaired driving. She intended no harm. She was only 19 and had had a fight with her boyfriend at a party. She was angry and upset and had left the party drunk and high. Her friends let her drive. She made a fatefully stupid decision, while impaired and angry. She walked away from the crash, but will live with the memory and consequences forever.

Ben is grown now with a family of his own and his dad's BMW motorcycle now in his garage.

Without a doubt, the crash was the girl's fault and yet, 22 years later I keep asking myself; why didn't Ted see her?


Here's my question to you: do you always check left, right and back to left before taking your foot off the brake at an intersection, like Ted would have taught you?


My guess is that Ted always did...always, except maybe once?

- Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver (reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine)

Spencer McDonald

President and founder of Thinking Driver,  Spencer McDonald, has over 25 years of experience in designing driver safety training curriculums and instructor development. He has driver safety qualifications in all vehicle types and expertise in psychology, education, training and motivation that uniquely qualifies him to develop the attitude-based Thinking Driver programs. 

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