The Alberta Government is gearing up efforts to improve traffic safety standards designed to keep drivers on their toes and their eyes on the road.
Most of the initiative to reduce fatalities and injuries on provincial roadways come into effect next year, and the government is calling on Alberta employers to help implement the plans.
During the recent Alberta Health & Safety Conference and Trade Show in Edmonton, safety professionals and business leaders were given a detailed account of the province’s pending changes to its traffic safety legislation and public awareness strategies, many of which target commuters and workers.
The conference, titled “Workplaces on the Move”, focused, in large part, on reducing motor vehicle accidents and fatalities.
Alberta Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said the growing rate of traffic accidents and deaths makes it imperative that the government act to prevent further highway carnage. He is calling on employers to do their part.
Lukaszuk said a number of provincial safety associations and government departments partnered the last few years to develop a comprehensive safety strategy which will be put into full effect by mid 2011.
"Motor vehicle incidents claimed the lives of 340 Alberta workers between 2000 and 2009,” he said. “That’s why my department has partnered with Alberta Transportation and industry to develop a new best practices book called Driving for Work – Developing Safe Practices for Employers and Workers.”
Lukaszuk noted new best practice includes a handbook for employers and workers to develop their own safe driving policies and programs as well as online courses.
“People have more work to do, but less time to get it done,” he said. “As health and safety professionals, it’s our job to see that all those people stay well and get home safely at the end of the work day.”
The overall cost of motor vehicle collisions to Alberta is estimated to be at least $4 billion a year — about $12 million everyday. However, the economic costs are secondary to the personal and societal costs, Lukaszuk added. “The emotional, psychological and physical impacts on families, communities and workplaces cannot be measured.”
More than 600 delegates attended the 9th annual Conference and Trade Show held November 8-10.
Participants were also given instruction on how to establish their own company-based mentoring programs for fleet drivers and employees who travel extensively.
The session was facilitated by Alberta Motor Association safety consultant Ron Wilson. Mentoring safe drivers will become a key component for ensuring the success of the province’s new Traffic Safety Plan, Wilson said.
The most noteworthy announcement of the three-day event included the government’s new Distracted Driver legislation.
The Traffic Safety (Distracted Driving) Amendment Act, restricts the use of hand-held cell phones and activities like texting, reading, writing, personal grooming, and puts restrictions on using other electronic devices while driving.
“This legislation is a bold approach and goes beyond restricting cell phones and deals with the broader issue of distracted driving,” said Minister of Transportation Luke Ouellette. “Our message is clear: Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.”
This legislation permits the use of hands-free phones. Also, radio communication devices such as CB radios are allowed for commercial purposes and search and rescue services, delegates heard. Drivers may use hand-held devices to contact emergency services — like 911— and this legislation does not affect the official duties of emergency service personnel including law enforcement, fire and medical services.
Drivers engaged in any of the identified activities can be charged under this new law. A distracted driver could face additional charges if they commit other violations such as running a red light or making an improper lane change. This legislation complements the current driving without due care and attention law — a serious offence with a fine of $402 and six demerit points.
Mayne Root, executive director of the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA), said his group supports initiatives that enhance road safety by and for all users.
“The AMTA provided input in the consultation process for this legislative change and are pleased that it includes provisions for commercial transportation and emergency services to continue to utilize technology that is critical to their operations,” he said.
The AMTA provides Professional Driver Improvement Courses which strongly cautions drivers to be aware of their driving at all times and not allow distractions of any kind to adversely affect safe driving.
During the breakout session titled “Driven to Distraction,” delegates examined why drivers engage in activities which impede the ability to operate their motor vehicles safely.
Alison Smiley, president of Human Factors North Inc., explained driver behaviour and what companies can do to reduce distractions which lead to crashes.
----------------- Jeff Morrow is a freelance writer based in Edmonton. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org