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On a personal mission

Former RCMP officer who lost two brothers now advocates for driver safety


LLOYDMINSTER, Alta. Grant Aune witnessed his fair share of deaths and injuries while working for the RCMP investigating traffic collisions in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, but none more difficult than the loss of not one, but two of his brothers to a highway collision.

“The first 25 years of my professional career was purely reactive,” Aune said, explaining that as an RCMP collision reconstructionist he was only able to attend road collisions after they occurred. “I never had an opportunity in that 25 years in the Mounted Police to do what I’m doing this morning, and that’s to talk to people and pass on information actively to hopefully prevent you from ever being involved in an incident.”

Aune is now the owner of Advantage Fleet Services, which provides proactive risk management and loss prevention to companies in various business sectors in Canada and the US for areas such as, but not limited to, driver assessments, training, commercial vehicle incident investigation and collision reconstruction.

Presenting to attendees of the Alberta Motor Transport Association’s (AMTA) 2016 Lloydminster Safety Conference and Trade Show Jan. 27, Aune touched upon several ‘shocking’ statistics about incidents on North American highways and posed six challenges to not only those who make their living behind the wheel, but everyone with a driver’s licence.

“What’s happening on our highways and byways is an epidemic,” Aune said. “The statistics are
alarming.”

Some of those statistics are getting better, at least when it comes to the number of traffic-related fatalities on Canadian roads, but Aune cautioned not to be too optimistic about the numbers.

“I’m here to tell you that it’s not because we’re better drivers. It has nothing to do with better drivers,” he said. “(It’s) technology. Technology is happening fast. It’s not going to be long until you push a button in your car and it will take you to work.”

Garnering his statistics from Transportation Canada, Aune pointed out that over a 20-year period, traffic fatalities have dropped, falling to just under 2,000 in 2013, but that the number of crashes have continued to climb.

“Technology is what has reduced fatalities,” Aune said. “Collisions are actually going the other way…we have more collisions. All we are doing statistically is we are converting fatalities to serious injury (and) serious injury to injury…we are not reducing the amount of crashes.”

Overall, 57,171 people have died in vehicle-related incidents in Canada over the last 20 years.

Some of the technological advancements Aune highlighted were ABS brakes, crumple zones, airbags, traction control, side curtains, lane departure warnings, front and rear radar and cameras. These technologies have also helped to reduce the number of serious injuries resulting from traffic collisions – in 2013, there were approximately 10,000, and over the course of two decades there have been 303,049 in Canada.

All traffic-related injuries in Canada over the last 20 years bring that number to over four million. So what causes all of these incidents? According to Aune, 97% of the time it’s the driver.

“Of the crashes I have investigated, 99.99% someone was to blame,” he said.

Aune said traffic collisions all happen the same way, and it starts with the startled driver not looking in the right place at the right time, resulting in a loss of control.

And once there is a loss of control, Aune said all that is left is luck.

Get informed

Aune said drivers must be informed about what can happen if they become a startled driver, both statistically and legally.

He spoke about ‘standard of care,’ a Canadian law that came into effect in 1967 the means drivers are liable for their actions, and that those who driver for a living, either part- or full-time, must be kept to a higher standard of care, or they can be sued for their actions, much like in the US with its ‘vehicular homicide’ legislation.

Change your attitude

‘It will never happen to me.’

“It can in a heartbeat,” said Aune, “and it will take your heartbeat away.”

Aune said that most of the people in the room, particularly the men, were not as good a driver as they thought they were, and they must continue to learn every day.

“It’s only a matter of time until it happens to you.”

Eliminate ‘accident’ fromyour vocabulary

Reiterating his point, Aune said crashes are almost always the fault of the driver and that the ‘accident’ is what happens after the preventable action of the driver.

“The driver is responsible for the tool of his trade,” Aune stressed, saying that when there is a mechanical failure, it is the driver’s job to ensure it is fixed and cannot simply place blame on the vehicle for the incident.

Slow down

“Speed kills,” said Aune, adding that speed was a factor in every collision he has investigated. He added that it is not only fast drivers who cause hazardous situations, but also slow drivers.

On a road with a posted speed limit of 100 km/h, those travelling at 70 km/h are just as much of an issue as the ones going 140 km/h.

“Everything about speed is a negative,” said Aune. “It disadvantages you in every way.”

Aune said that in the transportation world, a driver’s efficiency is going to effect their productivity, so keeping fuel costs low and putting less wear and tear on the vehicle was all a positive.

Driving is an art, not an act

Aune admits that it is not difficult to drive; what’s hard is to focus on that drive. To see if you can focus on your drive, Aune said to try two things: see how long you can go without touching your brakes; and, fill a cup nearly to the top with water and see how long you can go without spilling it.

Wear your seatbelt

More than 50% of the fatalities Aune has investigated involved someone not wearing their seatbelt.

“It’s not about you,” Aune said, “it’s about your family.”

Aune said drivers and trucking companies must turn compliance and spin it into a best practice and make it a positive. He also said that most of the stories drivers hear about how someone survived an accident because they were not wearing their seatbelt are ‘bullshit,’ and that the odds are always in the favour of those wearing a belt.

“My sole goal of the day today is to have you walk out that door thinking about what you’ve heard,” said Aune. “Driving is a mindset, the problem is that we turn it into a concept and what happens is that driving becomes second or third nature…we start thinking about everything else but driving.”

With vehicle crashes costing the province of Alberta about $3 billion a year, Aune said that distracted driving has become a huge problem, and that as of 2013, every province and state in the US reported it being the main cause of collisions, for the first time ahead of alcohol. He said trucking company managers must ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to safe driving habits, and “If it’s not important to you, then why should it be important to them?

“Good drivers just drive.”


Derek Clouthier

Derek Clouthier

A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media industry as an editor, reporter and now as editor of Truck West. I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels. derek@newcom.ca @DerekClouthier
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