Speeding to a tragic fate

A 67-year-old Southern Alberta man appeared in court last week on a speeding charge. The RCMP caught him driving at 180 km/h on Hwy 22 south of Black Diamond. When asked why he was driving so fast, the man said that he had just washed his car and that he needed to dry it off.

A 67-year-old Southern Alberta man appeared in court last week on a speeding charge.

The RCMP caught him driving at 180 km/h on Hwy 22 south of Black Diamond.

When asked why he was driving so fast, the man said that he had just washed his car and that he needed to dry it off.

With flimsy excuses like that floating around, it’s little wonder that Alberta’s police chiefs are asking the provincial government to tighten its traffic laws to curb excessive speeding.

The chiefs recently backed a resolution that would allow officers to seize for a week, at their discretion, the vehicles of drivers going more than 50 km/h over the speed limit.

The drivers’ licences also would be suspended for a week.

Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht, head of the Alberta Chiefs of Police, said there are too many people being killed on the Alberta’s highways because people are simply driving too fast.

There is plenty of evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, that speeding on Alberta’s highways is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

While the posted speed limit on Hwy 2 remains 110 km/h, it is not uncommon for drivers who respect the limit to feel as though they are standing still as they are passed by others pushing 140 km/h or more.

Alberta’s highways were not designed to handle such excessive speeds, which disrupt the flow of traffic and lead to potentially deadly situations.

A recent anti-speeding campaign by Ponoka’s Integrated Traffic Unit that targeted morning commuters backs up Knecht’s argument that excessive speeding is a problem.

According to the report in the June 18 Advocate, the previous week’s two-day operation on Hwy 2 netted 65 speeders and aggressive drivers. Most of them had exceeded the highway’s 110 km/h speed limit by more than 40 km/h.

One 17-year-old from Lacombe was allegedly clocked at 204 km/h. He was charged with dangerous driving and is scheduled to appear in Ponoka provincial court on Aug. 14.

The Alberta Chiefs of Police proposed a similar resolution in 2009. The province rejected it.

The chiefs’ latest resolution has already been rejected by Alberta’s solicitor general.

Jonathon Denis says there’s no evidence the resolution would curb the number of speeders on Alberta’s highways.

However, similar legislation has been enacted in Ontario, B.C. and Quebec, with some success.

In B.C., for example, police who catch drivers going more than 40 km/h over the speed limit can impound the vehicle for seven days, plus towing and storage costs.

The penalty increases to 30 days for a second offence within a two-year period, and 60 days for any subsequent offences.

According to the B.C. Ministry of Justice, 16,000 vehicles have been impounded for excessive speed since September 2010, while road fatalities dropped from 167 in 2007 to 96 in 2011.

Alberta recognized that it had a speeding problem more than seven years ago when it commissioned the Alberta Traffic Safety Plan (October 2006).

It found almost 400 people die and more than 27,000 people are injured in more than 112,000 motor vehicle collisions in Alberta annually.

About 17 per cent of drivers who were killed were travelling at excessive speeds.

The plan offers various strategies aimed at reducing fatalities in 10 target areas. Speeding is No. 3 behind unbelted occupants and impaired driving.

One of those strategies includes introducing additional police resources to address issues such as speeding.

Higher fines and longer driving suspensions are one answer. Seizing offenders’ vehicles, whether for a week, a month or two months, would send a strong, immediate message that speeding is not tolerated in this province.

In the case of the 67-year-old Southern Alberta man who was drying his car, the judge fined him $800 and suspended him from driving for 45 days.

That’s hardly chump change, but it remains to be seen whether the fine and driving suspension will be enough to persuade him to use a towel next time.

Cameron Kennedy is an Advocate editor.