Ducks, Cars and Public Safety

By Pam Dillon

Around this time last year, my son and I witnessed something I thought was miraculous. During rush hour on a Friday afternoon at the start of a holiday weekend, we were at a stoplight at the corner of Woodroffe Avenue and Fallowfield Road. As I counted them, there were nine lanes of traffic, all with drivers poised to put a foot to the gas pedal. Waiting for the light to turn green, we caught a glimpse of something unexpected. It was a mother duck shepherding her babies across the road to a field on the other side. Her chosen—and interminably long—path was diagonal.

* Waddle waddle waddle waddle waddle waddle *

“Take a picture,” I told my son. He shook his head, looking pained.  He couldn’t stomach the idea of photographing baby ducks getting squashed.

As we held our breath, the light changed again and again. Not a car moved until that momma got her family safely across the intersection and onto the roadside gravel.

We couldn’t believe it.  At the time, I thought it was a testament to Kind Ottawa. Now I’m not so sure.

A couple of weeks after that, there was another duck crossing witnessed in passing.  It was on Jockvale Road near Stonebridge. This time, though, two cars were stopped in the middle of the road—one in each direction—to allow the ducks to cross safely.  I didn’t think much of it, until this week when a young woman was found guilty in two deaths after she stopped to help ducks on a highway.  Emma Czornobaj was convicted of two counts of criminal negligence causing death and two counts of dangerous driving causing death. In June of 2010, a dad and his teenage daughter were on a motorcycle and slammed into the back of her car, which was stopped in a traffic lane near Montreal. Behind them, on a second motorcycle, was another member of their family, a wife and mother left to grieve their loss.

Now, four years later, the young woman who stopped her car to save ducks awaits a pre-sentence hearing. The maximum sentence for criminal negligence causing death is life in prison.

It’s a tragedy that can serve as a lesson for the rest of us. The Ottawa region is full of cute little critters. Thanks to our gorgeous greenbelt, we’ve got deer, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, ducks and numerous other animals roaming in our midst. We’ve also got plenty of young drivers on our local roads, including teens whose brains are still under construction. They’re prone to impulsive, ill-thought decisions. So now is a good time to point out this particular news story, to review safe driving practices and to talk about what to do when a little critter materializes on the road.

Hopefully, no more lives will be lost or ruined for the sake of fuzzy ducklings.

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