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As we go about our everyday living, do we take the time to recognize the impacts of traffic safety? We know that traffic safety is on top of our minds year after year and especially ever present when our city council is seeking election or reelection through door to door conversations. Edmonton has been focused on reducing our collision carnage which was the highest in Canada in 2006. Speeding and alcohol have on average contributed to 50% of our fatalities each year. While progress has been made, the adoption of Vison Zero has put a new perspective on our approach. Vision Zero advocates for the elimination of fatalities and serious injuries from motor vehicle collisions which Edmonton has committed to by 2032.


As my criminal law instructor pressed us to retool our thinking on policing (involving community and stakeholders), perhaps it’s time to do the same on how and who we partner with to reduce and eliminate the impacts of alcohol and drugs involved in traffic safety. It has taken a generation of drivers to accept that seatbelts actually help prevent death and injuries when involved in a motor vehicle collision. Yet each year, passengers and drivers are ejected from their vehicles and succumb to their injuries. A small percentage of the population will resist change, make mistakes and suffer serious consequences. How many vehicles will not operate if the seatbelt is not fastened, they only buzz, yet we don’t demand car manufacturers make it impossible to operate a car if all occupants are not fastened?


We have traditionally relied on families who have experienced the loss or permanent disability of a loved one to advocate for changes in law and educate others on the horrific consequences of motor vehicle collisions involving alcohol and drugs. These are important education needs no doubt; however, voices for traffic safety provide nowhere near the volume needed to make a permanent difference. There are many reasons for this but we need to add more to the arsenal to make the changes we desire.


What we have learned from Vision Zero is that everyone can play a part, even those who we may have not traditionally invited for support. We have generally excluded partners who are involved in manufacturing alcohol products and now cannabis. Yet we see in our work in Vision Zero that the community and those involved in the manufacturing of vehicles have a role to play and that they can and do add more value to safety when they are involved. A mother with young children advocating for reduced speeds and livability tugs at the heart strings of the community and politicians. Automobile manufacturers who build vehicles that can well exceed the speed limit are now offering Intelligent Speed Adaptive control, software that confirms road speeds and an array of built in safety features to detect and mitigate collisions. Should we now bring in companies that are legally allowed to sell their products to the public to help solve some of the problems associated with their misuse or resulting mistakes? Vision Zero acknowledges that humans make mistakes and we need to ensure that the systems in place can reduce the impact of those mistakes so no one dies or is seriously injured.


We have taken the first step in becoming involved in a traffic safety forum with a major manufacturer of alcohol who has a strong interest in supporting traffic safety. From a traditional perspective, we questioned the wisdom of supporting their initiative. Yet, from an experiential perspective they are best suited to understand the impact of their product and marketing. The end result was a forum that supported the company’s interest in the safe use of their product, clearly highlighted the risks and consequences of using alcohol and opened the door for their involvement in helping traffic safety. An added benefit was their association with a major car manufacturer who allowed participants to drive their vehicles and experience the safety features.


There are many examples of companies making changes to improve the safety of their products and reduce risks to their users. A major drug company quickly retooled their product for public consumption after the product had been tampered with and rendered unsafe. More and more fleet owners provide notification that their fleet will operate at the speed limit through GPS monitored notification stickers or by including a number to call if the vehicle operator is not driving safely. Whether the companies involved do so for civil liability reasons, occupational health and safety or just to demonstrate corporate responsibility we welcome their contribution which in turn makes our safety culture visible and increases its effectiveness.


While there are always many sides to these discussions and debates, people will continue to use alcohol and drugs which when combined with driving, cycling or walking increase the risk for death or serious injury. Is it time to retool our thinking and bring companies involved in the legal sale of alcohol and drugs to the traffic safety conversation?


Join us at T2019 in Edmonton to learn more.
Gerry Shimko, City of Edmonton