New road rules proposed for Quebec

by Julia Kuzeljevich

MONTREAL, Que. – Quebec is eyeing a series of road safety initiatives that could do everything from allowing right turns at red light to re-introducing photo radar.

These are among five issues in the province’s ‘green paper on highway safety’, unveiled by Transport Minister Guy Chevrette. (There’s also a proposal to require cyclists to wear helmets, limits on areas where in-line skating would be allowed, and tougher rules on drunk driving.)

You could be forgiven if you think you’ve heard about photo radar before. It was introduced in the 1970s only to be abandoned when the public saw it only as a money-making scheme for the government.

Public hearings on the proposal are planned for February. Ultimately, Quebec’s Ministry of Transportation wants to table new road safety legislation by June 2000.

“The government’s prime objective in tabling legislation is to reduce the number of traffic deaths in the province,” says Esther Boily, press aide for Chevrette.

Road stats in the province of Quebec for the past few years reveal that driving under the influence of alcohol was the principal cause of road accidents in the province, associated with 40 per cent of deaths on the road. Speeding contributed to 25 per cent of road deaths.

Jacques Lelievre, chief of the road safety division for the Montreal Urban Community Police Department, says that issues like the wearing of helmets are strongly pushed by insurance companies, while police groups in particular generally support the use of photo radar. It and turns on the red light are, without question, the most important issues relating to the trucking industry.

“This is our main issue. It would have a positive outcome in terms of reducing the number of deaths on the roads. You can’t be against what would be a virtue. But a right turn on red is not a virtue.”

Proponents of introducing right turns on the red light suggest that it’s in the interest of harmonization with other parts of the country, such as neighboring Ontario.

Debates about red light turns in the province have been going on since the 1970s, and always center on the issue of surrendering safety for mobility. Guy Paquette, head of the research group on road safety at the University of Laval, and one of the presenters at a Dec. 6 forum on road safety, says that findings on red light turns reveal that it may not in fact be a good idea for all of Quebec.

“The calculations we’ve made suggest that it may in fact also slightly increase the number of road deaths each year. In Montreal, where it would be impossible to introduce these turns everywhere, it would also mean major costs for the signage,” he said.

Lelievre doesn’t support the idea of right hand turns on red lights, either.

“With out-of-province drivers it sometimes occurs, but it’s not a major problem. We believe that with right-hand turns on red lights, we would lose more lives because of the lack of respect for pedestrians in Quebec. Everyone seems to be against it here.”

But photo radar, says Paquette, has many advantages. “It’s the single most efficient method of safety intervention available, and eliminates the subjectivity of employing a police force to administer fines. Photo radar isn’t subject to pressures about being fair, or excuses that could make a police officer reconsider the fine.”

Photo radar would also release police staff to cover other duties. “It’s considered a type of punishment by a lot of officers, when they’re put on radar duty,” says Paquette. The photo radar equipment being considered can take about two photos per second compared to an average of four interceptions per hour with current equipment.

The new equipment consists of radar and a camera controlled by computer, which can capture the license plate of the speeding vehicle.

For the trucking industry in Quebec, Paquette says the introduction of photo radar could be a major benefit for company drivers.

“It could certainly be a comfort to some drivers that, despite the fact that they might have to stick to tighter tolerances than car drivers, the fines will go to the company owners.”

The introduction of photo radar in the province, says Paquette, would ideally be accompanied by consideration of an increase in speed limits, at least on the highways. “Canada has one of the world’s lowest speed limits on highways,” he adds.

“Photo radar should not be used as an instrument of taxation,” stresses Paquette. “Drivers should get an indication, by way of highway electronic signage, that they are over the limit, and by how much. Tolerances could be introduced, perhaps tighter for heavy load vehicles.” n

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