Traffic-related deaths/injuries dropping despite traffic volume rise in Alberta

RED DEER, Alta. – With a population up nearly 10%, the number of drivers 8.9%, traffic volumes 18.4%, and over 500,000 registered commercial vehicles on Alberta roads, managing the province’s highway system has proved challenging over the past four years.

Speaking to attendees during the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) Safety Conference in Red Deer, Alta. Sept. 22, Wendy Doyle, executive director of the office of traffic safety for Alberta’s Ministry of Transportation, said commercial vehicle registration peaked in 2015 with over 600,000, and those seeking Class 1 driver’s licenses has steadily increased since 2013.

“We have a driving public, people like their vehicles in Alberta,” Doyle said, adding that passenger vehicles and a rise in commercial drivers contributes to the increased traffic volumes, but at the same time there has been a drop in vehicle-related fatalities in the province.

Out of 334 total fatalities in 2015, 80 involved commercial vehicles – a commercial vehicle includes not only long-haul transport trucks, but also motor homes and farm equipment – and 2% involved tractor trailers. In total, there are approximately 300,000 collisions on provincial highways each year, not including within municipalities, where statistics are maintained separately.

Doyle pointed out that the most likely time for a commercial vehicle to be involved in a collision is in November between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Running off the road is the most common reason for commercial vehicle collisions (30%), followed by tailgating (26%), and other various individual circumstances (24%).

The most common commercial driver condition during a collision that may have contributed to the accident is fatigue and/or fell asleep. Other factors can include alcohol consumption, impairment, and impairment from drug use. Alcohol impairment is by far the most likely driver condition for all motorists during collisions on provincial highways.

However, traffic fatality and injury numbers are going down in Alberta, despite a rise in population, drivers, and traffic volumes, for a variety of reasons, including collision mitigation technology, safer vehicles, and enforcement tactics like photo radar and red light cameras.

Though Doyle said the general public is typically opposed to photo radar and red light cameras, they do save lives, while at the same time, increasing the number of property crashes – those that do not claim a life or cause serious injury – as the severity of the collisions go down.

Traffic-related deaths and injuries also carry a heavy financial burden on the province and its residents, with a social price tag anywhere between $4.6 and $10.3 billion annually. Doyle said the variance in the estimate is because it is difficult to put a cost on a human life, and added that although tragic and strange to say, deaths are far less expensive than serious injuries on the health care system.

Wendy Doyle, executive director of the office of traffic safety for Alberta’s Ministry of Transportation, presents during the AMTA Safety Conference in Red Deer Sept. 22.

Doyle’s office is currently working on passing its Transportation Safety Plan 2020, which is Alberta’s plan to meet Canada’s Road Safety Strategy 2025.

With a “Vision Zero” tagline, the plan, which is expected to be implemented later this fall, aims to see zero deaths and serious injuries on Alberta’s highways by using technology and other means to figure out what could have been done differently to prevent any given collision.

The plan incorporates a safe system approach, addressing safe speeds, safe road users, safe vehicles, and safe infrastructure.

Panel discusses ELD mandate

Dan McCormack, an investigator with Alberta Commercial Vehicle Enforcement (CVE), highlighted the cost-benefit ratio of electronic logging devices (ELDs), saying the benefits outweigh the costs by 2:1.

McCormack highlighted that an expected 40% reduction in out-of-service (OOS) for hours-of-service (HOS) violations would contribute to the benefits of ELDs, as would what he said would be an estimated 30-120 minutes saved per cycle for drivers, which translates to an additional two hours of driving, or $2,000 increase in annual pay. Transparency in a carrier’s planning, safety, and operations departments and a leveling of the playing field were also cited as positives for the argument behind the use of ELDs.

McCormack moderated a two-person panel on ELDs, which included Matt Cook of Arrow Transportation and Jeremy Sterling from Formula Powell.

McCormack said CVE officers will approach ELD inspections with an educational enforcement attitude for the first year after implementation, with soft enforcement for that initial year.

“It’s a big learning curve for us as well,” McCormack said. “The only place there would not be flexibility is out-of-service stuff.”

He advised drivers to carry a paper log that mirrors their ELD as a backup in the event of any issues with the e-log. In certain circumstances, drivers can present their paper log during an inspection and will be given 24 hours to produce their ELD log, but the decision will ultimately be up to the CVE officer.

Cook said following ELD training, 95% of his drivers can comfortably operate the device without any issues, despite their trepidations going in. Sterling puts his drivers through a course, which is followed by further training with company management and finally 100 hours in the truck with an ELD trainer.

Cook said the biggest challenge to the implementation of ELDs in the industry is perception, as many drivers feel uncomfortable with the idea of using them, but added that if a person can use a smartphone, they can use an ELD.

Properly training drivers how to use an ELD is vital to their success, according to McCormack.

“Make sure that your drivers are trained with the systems you use,” he said, “because it’s not an officer’s job to do that.”

AMTA Safety Conference attendees were highly engaged and asked several questions during the ELD panel discussion, showcasing the level of uncertainly that remains when it comes to the new technology.

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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and 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.

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