Canada Road Safety Week: May 17-23

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Slow Down, Breathe Easier

I’m in a world of mixed messages. Some are real, some are emotional, some are false and some come from the government. The one that I would like to tackle here might be a bit odd for DriveSmartBC but the consequences could be related back to safety. I’m thinking about travel speed and fuel economy because the faster you go, the more it costs, probably in more ways than one.

Whether you believe in global warming or not, I’m sure that none of us would happily breathe sitting next to the exhaust pipes of our vehicles. What comes out of that pipe, regardless of the current technology to reduce emissions incorporated into the vehicle, would harm us. The situation is significant as the Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Vehicle Emissions Standards) Act Policy Intentions Paper suggests that 40% of transportation emissions come from light vehicles and amounts to about 9.5 million tons annually.

Common sense tells us that doing what we can to reduce what comes out of the tailpipe would be a good thing for our health. Information from both the Greater Vancouver Regional District and the Province of British Columbia confirms it.

In 2008 the provincial government enacted the Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Vehicle Emissions Standards) Act. By this year, the Act was supposed to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 30% relative to the vehicle fleet current then. The act has never been proclaimed in force.

According to information published by Natural Resources Canada, in terms of fuel consumption versus speed, the “sweet spot” for light vehicle operation is between 50 and 80 km/h. It appears from the graph shown on the page that the most efficient speed to travel is just over 60 km/h.

I was not able to find a similar resource for heavy vehicles, but Cummins (a diesel engine manufacturer) seems to indicate thatfuel consumption is more efficient at speeds of 90 km/h and slower.

How does this compare with the recent speed changes on B.C. highways? An increase in speeds above about 60 km/h means an exponential increase in fuel consumption. Increased fuel consumption means both an increase in greenhouse gas production along with various other pollutants in vehicle exhaust. The mixed message I see here is that we want to reduce pollution, but you are now being facilitated to drive in a manner that makes the situation worse.

The manner in which you operate your vehicle, regardless of the speed limit, also plays a significant role in fuel economy. Accelerating gently, maintaining a steady speed, anticipating traffic, avoiding high speeds and coasting to decelerate contributes to fewer dollars spent at the pump and reduced emissions.

Even if we don’t debate how fast we should go when we drive, the other fuel saving behaviours are also safety enhancing tactics for drivers. To use them successfully we have to pay attention to the driving task, anticipate what others are going to do and adjust accordingly. These should be basic driving habits.

The connection between saving money at the pump, breathing a little more easily and being a safe driver might now be a bit clearer. If you don’t like that old hack “Speed Kills!” in relation to maximum speeds, it might make some sense to change it to “Slow Down, Breathe Easier.”

Cst. Tim Schewe (Ret.) runs DriveSmartBC, a community web site about traffic safety in British Columbia. For 25 years he was an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, including five years on general duty, 20 in traffic and 10 as a collision analyst responsible of conducting technical investigations of collisions. He retired from policing in 2006 but continues to be active in traffic safety through the DriveSmartBC web site, teaching seminars and contributing content to newspapers and web sites.

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‘Text and drive’ billboards deliver grim message

By Aleksandra Sagan


TORONTO — Drivers on one Toronto highway are seeing a counterintuitive message this week: “Text and Drive.”

Two billboards on the Gardiner Expressway purport to be an encouragement from a funeral home, but it’s really an advertising agency behind the provocative public-service announcement geared at curbing distracted driving.

At first glance, Wathan Funeral Home appears to be prompting drivers to text as a way to boost the number of car accidents and therefore its business, said Mylene Savoie, managing director of John St. advertising firm, which is behind the PSA.

“(It) is absolutely provocative and absolutely shocking when you first see it,” she said Thursday.

When drivers search for the funeral home online, incensed at its gall, she said, they discover it’s fake. The home’s website is filled with information about the impact of texting and driving.

While all the provinces as well as Yukon and the Northwest Territories ban people from using handheld devices while driving, distracted driving may be a bigger problem than drunk driving in the country, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Distracted driving doesn’t just include texting. It can also refer to people who fiddle with the settings on a GPS or focus on a handheld device for many other reasons.

People who take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds double their risk of getting in a collision, according to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

In the United States, about eight people died and more than 1,100 others were injured on average daily in crashes that reportedly involved a distracted driver in 2013, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In Ontario, 69 people died last year in accidents where driver distraction played a role, the Ontario Provincial Police said, outnumbering all other categories for the third year in a row.

John St. said it decided to tackle this issue on its own. The ad agency teamed up with Cieslok Media, which provided the billboard space.

The agency opted for the provocative angle to grab public attention and not get lost among the many ads people see every day, said Savoie.

“If you speak to people in a way they’re used to being spoken to — which is, ‘Don’t text and drive,’ — they’ll just say, ‘OK. Yup. Duly noted. Let me check my phone,'” she said.

So far, the reaction to the ad has been positive, she said.

“The balance between the provocative nature of the message and the informative nature of the message is proving to be, you know, quite successful.”

It’s not the first time a PSA on the perils of texting while driving has been tackled creatively.

The Alberta government has run a “crotches kill” anti-texting-and-driving campaign for multiple years.

The text-and-drive billboards in Toronto went up earlier this week and will remain on display until Sunday.


ICBC calls on drivers and motorcycle riders to share the road

ICBC calls on drivers and motorcycle riders to share the road

While motorcycles only make up only about three per cent of insured vehicles in B.C., they’re involved in almost one-in-10 road fatalities. With motorcycle awareness month underway, ICBC is calling on drivers to share the road with motorcycles now and throughout summer.

Crashes involving motorcycles peak at this time of year. In May and June, approximately four riders are injured in B.C. every day. In July and August, that number rises to six riders injured every day.*

“This year the warmer weather arrived early so all drivers need to already be thinking about sharing the road responsibly to reduce crashes involving vulnerable road users like motorcyclists,” said Todd Stone, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. “Most car crashes involving motorcycles happen in intersections. Drivers need to always look out for motorcyclists ― especially when turning left. And riders should never assume a driver has seen them.”

“Motorcycles are inherently smaller and riders aren’t protected by a frame, seatbelts, airbag and bumpers,” said Mark Blucher, ICBC’s president and CEO. “As a result, motorcycle crashes also tend to lead to more severe injury claims compared to those involving vehicle drivers.”

ICBC’s message for riders is to wear all the gear, all the time. The right motorcycle riding gear, including a helmet that meets approved safety standards, is the best protection against severe injuries in a crash. Check out the Gear it or Shear it videos on to see a graphic illustration of the difference between wearing riding gear and street clothes.

“Too often police officers see the devastating results of motorcycle crashes,” said Superintendent Derek Cooke, Vice-Chair of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police Traffic Safety Committee. “We’re asking motorcycle riders and their passengers to be visible, dress appropriately, pay attention and focus on driving because we don’t want you to be a statistic. And to other drivers, please be alert to motorcycles – give them their space and remember that there are no minor incidents involving motorcycles.”

Tips for drivers:

  • Always scan intersections and look carefully for motorcycles.
  • When turning left — look for oncoming motorcycles. Motorcycles can be hard to see, especially at night, at dusk, in bad weather or in heavy traffic. The safest choice is to yield the right of way to an oncoming rider as it can be hard to tell how fast they’re travelling.
  • Make eye contact — whenever possible, let motorcyclists know that you’ve seen them.
  • Don’t assume that a rider in the left part of the lane is planning to turn left. Some riders do this to be more visible.
  • Watch the rider for clues — sometimes a motorcycle’s turn signals are hard to see. If the rider shoulder checks or the motorcycle leans, the rider is probably planning to change lanes, adjust lane position or turn.

Tips for riders:

  • All the gear, all the time ― Choose a jacket and pants made for motorcycle riding; sturdy gloves that cover your wrists and protect your knuckles; and boots that protect your ankles. Street clothes offer little or no protection from the weather or in a crash.
  • Wear bright or reflective clothing that comes with ventilation to help prevent over-heating. Use a safety vest or clothing that features fluorescent material or reflective striping to help make you more visible, day and night.
  • Passengers should also wear motorcycle gear for the best protection.
  • According to the law in B.C., you must wear a motorcycle helmet that meets DOT, Snell or ECE standards. Be sure it displays the proper label and meets safety-helmet labelling requirements.
  • When approaching an intersection, adjust your lane position and reduce your speed so you’ll have time to stop if you need to.

Get more driver and rider tips on

*All statistics are based on a five-year average using 2009 to 2013 police (fatality) and ICBC data. Includes low-speed motorcycles (scooters and mopeds).

Media contact:
Sam Corea


Toronto taxi industry rejects surge pricing

The Toronto Taxi Alliance (TTA) and taxi industry leaders announced today that its members and other industry groups reject the surge pricing option enabled in the May 3rd City Council decision.

Surge pricing, a business model which sees drivers raise fares when demand is high, has traditionally been illegal in Toronto and since the Council vote, customers and drivers have sent an avalanche of messages to the taxi companies to say that surge pricing is a terrible idea, and they want nothing to do with it.

“We believe that surge pricing has no place in superior customer service, and is not an activity engaged in by professionals – especially not professional drivers responsible for the safety of vulnerable passengers,” says Rita Smith, Executive Director of the TTA.

“We believe that a young woman heading home with $20 in her wallet should be confident that a cab ride which cost $15 on Tuesday will still cost $15 on Saturday, not $30, $45 or $90.

“A senior citizen travelling to a doctor’s appointment should feel safe knowing in advance what the charge will be whether or not it is raining, or if the TTC is down.”

Toronto taxi companies are in agreement that surge pricing in their smartphone apps is inherently unfair to customers and would end up being bad for business in the long run – “and we are here for the long run,” Smith points out. “Our members have watched asToronto allowed an upstart foreign corporation storm the city and get the rules changed. We are more determined than ever to remain consumers’ first choice in transportation by providing the best, safest, most reliable and dependable service to the city of Toronto.”

Having reviewed the May 3rd Council motion, Beck, City, Co-op, Crown, Diamond  and other major businesses have said they will not implement surge pricing in their business models. The Canadian Taxicab Association also rejects the model.

“There are elements of the motion which we support, like requiring every driver of a vehicle for hire to provide proof of insurance to the City. There are other elements which we find challenging, but we will find a way to work with the new by-laws,” Smith says.


SOURCE Toronto Taxi Alliance

Scientific basis for laws on marijuana, driving questioned

By Joan Lowy


WASHINGTON _ Motorists are being convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana based on arbitrary state standards that have no connection to whether the driver was actually impaired, says a study by the nation’s largest auto club.

The problem is only growing as more states contemplate legalizing the drug. At least three, and possibly as many as 11 states, will vote this fall on ballot measures to legalize marijuana for medicinal or recreational use, or both. Legislation to legalize the drug has also been introduced in a half dozen states.

Currently, six states Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington have set specific limits for THC, the chemical in marijuana that makes people high, in drivers’ blood. Marijuana use is legal in those states for either recreational or medicinal purposes, with the exception of Ohio. The laws presume a driver whose THC level exceeds the threshold is impaired. But the study by AAA’s safety foundation says the limits have no scientific basis and can result in innocent drivers being convicted, and in guilty drivers being released.

“There is understandably a strong desire by both lawmakers and the public to create legal limits for marijuana impairment in the same manner we do alcohol,” said Marshall Doney, AAA’s president and CEO. “In the case of marijuana, this approach is flawed and not supported by scientific research.”

Another nine states, including some that have legalized marijuana for medical use, have zero-tolerance laws for driving and marijuana that make not only any presence of THC in a driver’s blood illegal, but also the presence of its metabolites, which can linger in a driver’s bloodstream for weeks after any impairment has dissipated.

That makes no sense, said Mark A. R. Kleiman, a New York University professor specializing in issues involving drugs and criminal policy. “A law against driving with THC in your bloodstream is not a law you can know you are obeying except by never smoking marijuana or never driving,” he said.

The problem is that determining whether someone is impaired by marijuana, as opposed to having merely used the drug, is far more complex than the simple and reliable tests that have been developed for alcohol impairment.

The degree to which a driver is impaired by marijuana use depends a lot on the individual, the foundation said. Drivers with relatively high levels of THC in their systems might not be impaired, especially if they are regular users, while others with relatively low levels may be unsafe behind the wheel.

Some drivers may be impaired when they are stopped by police, but by the time their blood is tested they have fallen below the legal threshold because active THC dissipates rapidly. The average time to collect blood from a suspected driver is often more than two hours because taking a blood sample typically requires a warrant and transport to a police station or hospital, the foundation said.

In addition, frequent marijuana users can exhibit persistent levels of the drug long after use, while THC levels can decline more rapidly among occasional users.

Colorado’s 5-nanogram limit for THC in blood “was picked out of thin air by politicians,” said Robert Corry, a Denver criminal defence attorney.  “Innocent people are convicted of DUI because of this.”

Melanie Brinegar, who uses marijuana every day to control back pain, was stopped by police two years ago for having an expired license plate. The officer smelled marijuana and Brinegar acknowledged she had used the drug earlier in the day. Her blood test showed a level of 19 nanograms, well over the state limit. She was arrested and charged with driving while impaired.

Brinegar, 30, who lives in Denver, said she spent the next 13 months working 80 to 90 hours a week to pay for a lawyer to help her fight the charge and eventually was acquitted. People like herself will always test positive for THC whether they are high or not because of their frequent use, she said.

“It took a good amount of my time and my life,” she said. “There is still that worry if I get pulled over (again).”

Studies show that using marijuana and driving roughly doubles the risk of a crash, Kleiman said. By comparison, talking on a hands-free cellphone while driving _ legal in all states _ quadruples crash risk, he said. A blood alcohol content of .12, which is about the median amount in drunken driving cases, increases crash risk by about 15 times, he said.

Driving with “a noisy child in the back of the car” is about as dangerous as using marijuana and driving, Kleiman said.

The exception is when a driver has both been using marijuana and drinking alcohol because the two substances together greatly heighten impairment, he said.


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