BROADEN ROAD SAFETY DIS­CUS­SION

Calgary Herald - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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