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Striving to make Quebec’s highways safer

MONTREAL, Que. - Quebec Transport Minister Michel Dupres told a March 23 parliamentary commission on road safety that he wants it to be a priority of society. By this fall a new policy for road safety...


OOPS: The Quebec Table on Road Safety hopes to eliminate scenes like this one.

OOPS: The Quebec Table on Road Safety hopes to eliminate scenes like this one.


MONTREAL, Que. – Quebec Transport Minister Michel Dupres told a March 23 parliamentary commission on road safety that he wants it to be a priority of society. By this fall a new policy for road safety should be ready.

Dupres gave the Table Quebecoise de la Securite Routiere (Quebec Table on Road Safety), created last December, the mandate to propose courses of action for the behaviour of users and vehicles and for infrastructure safety. This permanent exchange forum is composed of police, users associations, government organizations and other sectors – 36 “partners” in all.

The trucking industry has a strong voice at the Table: one of the partners is the well-known Table gouvernement-industrie sur la securite des vehicules lourds (Government-Industry Table on Heavy Vehicle Safety), of which the Quebec Trucking Association (QTA) is a member.

The Table borrows pages from highway safety initiatives in Great Britain and France. In France, for example, highway deaths dropped from 7,500 in 2002 to 4,950 in 2005 after its own Table of Road Safety was created, according to Jean-Marie De Koninck, the president of Quebec’s new Table.

Quebec highway deaths have plummeted from 2,209 in 1973 to 647 in 2004, but it is felt that to achieve further reductions will take new ideas. Not only that, the government’s vehicle insurance system, administered by the Societe de l’assurance automobile du Quebec (SAAQ), has for years been paying out more in claims than it receives. The SAAQ predicts that without major changes, its fund will be bone dry by 2018.

Judging from the four overall themes proposed for the Table, someone has decided that heavy vehicles seem to warrant scrutiny, even though recent accident figures suggest no cause for panic: The number of fatal (45), serious (178) and light (1,244) accidents involving heavy trucks were up in 2004, compared to 1999-2003 but an eyeball statistical analysis suggests that there is no reason to believe there is a trend toward more accidents than before, except possibly for light accidents. In fact, given the huge increase in truck traffic since 1999, truckers can be very proud of their safety record. Fatal (four) and serious (48) injuries were down in 2004, compared to 1999-2003, and light injuries (463) were up slightly.

“All depending on the way you look at these statistics, one can conclude that the performance of the industry has improved, taking into account the increase in distance travelled by heavy vehicles every year. Nevertheless, the government regards these results in absolute terms, which places our industry in a fragile situation our association cannot ignore,” says Marc Cadieux, the QTA’s president director-general.

The QTA points out that a trucker driving 150,000 kilometres a year is 10 times more exposed to risk than the average car driver. Furthermore, it says that in 70% of the accidents involving heavy vehicles, the truck driver is not at fault.

The QTA weighed in on several safety issues at the March 23 parliamentary commission: It is in favour of speed limiters, and a maximum speed for trucks of 105 km/hr; it also says that the industry has a zero tolerance to speeding. Speed limiters were discussed in a March 23 meeting of the Government-Industry Table on Heavy Vehicle Safety, but, says Cadieux, “no formal position has been taken by the authorities.”

The idea of photographing speeders’ licence plates has resurfaced, and, according to Cadieux, the QTA has not wavered from the position it took at a parliamentary commission in 2001. He says plenty about the near-impossibility of proving from a shot of a trailer’s licence plate just who drove the truck that hauled the trailer that went too fast, but in general, Cadieux asserts, “Putting (this) in place would put an administrative burden on the trucking industry that we do not hesitate to qualify as unacceptable,” because obviously the trailer is as likely as not to belong to someone other than the driver or owner of the tractor.

Cell phone usage also came up at the parliamentary commission. The QTA acknowledges that it is a work tool and that its use while driving should not be prohibited completely. However, it does recommend to its members that they should sensitise their drivers to the importance of using cell phones when their vehicles are not in motion.

The government also draws a connection between the state of the road network, its three-year, $4-billion highway budget, and road safety.

Indeed. Cadieux cites two examples: “Once the Autoroute 30 (the ring road around Montreal) is complete, we hope that there will be eight million fewer trucks a year on the Metropolitan Boulevard. We hope this will reduce the number of accidents. But the conversion of Route 175 in the Parc des Laurentides into a four-lane autoroute will reduce safety, especially in the winter.”


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