BROADEN ROAD SAFETY DISCUSSION
In just a few short days, the proposal to lower the speed limit on Calgary’s residential streets to 30 km/ h has erupted into a vigorous debate about traffic safety. We owe thanks to Druh Farrell and her fellow councillors for raising an important issue, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s more to traffic safety than pedestrian protection on residential streets. The big picture for Alberta and Canada shows we need much more debate and, more importantly, action on this issue.
We — governments, politicians and citizens — tolerate far too much death and mayhem on our roads. In 2016, there were 299 traffic fatalities in Alberta and 1,898 in all of Canada, which had more than 35 million people that year.
However, if you look at Great Britain in 2016, which had more than 60 million people (almost twice Canada’s population), there were 1,792 traffic fatalities — 106 fewer than Canada’s total!
We can take little solace in the fact that Britain had significantly more pedestrian deaths, 448 compared with Canada’s 334 and Alberta’s 50 in 2016, considering the difference in population density.
As anyone who has been to Britain knows, driving there can be very challenging (driving on the left aside), ranging from the “dual carriageways” with their 70 mph (112 km/h) limits to single-lane roads with pullouts on rural roads, and from navigating tiny hamlets to megalopolis London.
If anything, we could have assumed there would be more overall fatalities in Britain. The facts prove otherwise.
The question is, why? Britain’s Department of Transport website on traffic fatalities offers a host of factors on its casualties: the distances people travel; mix of transport modes; behaviours of drivers and riders and pedestrians; mix of old and new drivers; and weather. But it also notes “there is no underlying factor that drives road casualties.” In other words, it’s all of the above. More research in Canada is needed to pinpoint our causes.
One interesting variable is economic activity. The better the economy the higher the casualty rate, as more people commute to work or fill up transport trucks.
However, traffic safety should be addressed regardless of the underlying economy. The cost in lives, pain, grief and money demands we all try harder.
Let’s look at it another way. Alberta had 116 homicides in 2016. Imagine the hue and cry if that tripled to equal the number of traffic fatalities.
So far there are few voices calling for action. We can thank Mothers Against Drunk Driving for successfully campaigning the past 37 years against intoxicated drivers. In 2016, just 16.3 per cent of drivers involved in fatal collisions had consumed alcohol before the collision and just 3.2 per cent of drivers had a drink in injury collisions.
But what about the other 84 per cent of drivers involved in fatalities? There are no Mothers Against Speeding Drivers or Mothers Against Distracted Drivers.
The most common improper action by drivers in fatalities is running off the road, at nearly 40 per cent of deaths. The most common improper action overall in casualty collisions is following too closely, at 31 per cent.
It’s worth noting, for instance, that the fine for distracted driving, which contributes to 20 to 30 per cent of all collisions, is $287 in Alberta.
In Britain, it’s the equivalent of $343 with a loss of licence if you passed your driving test in the last two years.
We need to take a closer look at education, enforcement and consequences for ignoring driver safety.