The Special Committee on Traffic Safety released a report on Friday offering a number of recommendations to improve road safety in Saskatchewan.
© Submitted photo courtesy of Saskatchewan Party website
Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie
Having chaired the committee since its inception in May, Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie took the opportunity to explain the group’s work and their final recommendations to the Herald.
“We just do not want this (report) to sit on a shelf somewhere and gather dust,” Hickie said.
“The whole committee believes that these recommendations all taken into consideration at some point should have a desired effect of reducing our fatalities on the highways and roads in the province.”
The all-party committee was formed after a call by Premier Brad Wall to address 2012 traffic fatality statistics.
The main areas of concern included impaired driving, distracted driving, speeding, intersection safety and wildlife collisions, with the first two representing the leading causes of provincial traffic fatalities.
“We want to strengthen the current administrative sanctions as it relates to impaired driving,” Hickie said. “We’re going to look at increasing the age of the graduated driver’s license up to 19 years old where you can have no blood alcohol content in your system.
“We’re going to look at expanding the 24-hour suspension to 72 hours suspension if you get caught with a 0.04 to 0.08 level, and then for your second offence in there, we’re going to take your vehicle away for seven days.”
The report recommends that drivers found to be under the influence of drugs fall under the same rules as those impaired with alcohol. It would also adopt a zero-tolerance policy for drug and alcohol use by drivers under 19.
“These are all recommendations, though,” Hickie said. “These aren’t binding by the government by any means.”
To address the issue of distracted driving, the report recommends tightening up the language in legislation by making it illegal to hold a cellphone or electronic device while operating a vehicle.
Under the recommendations, the law would stipulate that drivers would have to use Bluetooth or other hand-free devices while driving.
The issue of wildlife collisions is somewhat trickier to address, Hickie indicated.
“You can’t put a fence up on every highway in Saskatchewan,” he said.
“One thing we do ask is that the Ministry of Environment looks at adding additional hunting tags and licences for certain areas of the province where there’s been more traffic accidents resulting from wildlife.
“They’re doing that for this year’s hunting season, so we’re just asking that they continue to collaborate with First Nations communities as well -- to maybe use First Nations hunters in the area that there’s wildlife as well, because of course First Nations can hunt 12 months out of the year.”
The whole committee believes that these recommendations all taken into consideration at some point should have a desired effect of reducing our fatalities on the highways and roads in the province. MLA Darryl Hickie
Enforcement of many report recommendations would require additional resources and personnel.
SGI previously proposed that the province hire up to 120 new officers dedicated to traffic enforcement. The committee is recommending that Deputy Minister of Corrections and Policing (and former Prince Albert police chief) Dale McFee look at the feasibility of the idea and how to potentially phase it in over time.
In addition, the committee has recommended that the province hire more drug recognition experts -- specially trained officers who can testify in court whether a driver who was pulled over was impaired by a drug.
“The issue here is that so many drug recognition experts have been trained already, but they’re no longer in patrol, so they’re out of the frontline policing,” Hickie said.
“We’re just asking for more of those officers to be trained to keep that level there, because there isn’t a breath test for drug impairment. So these officers have to be available to assess a person’s impairment by a drug if they’re called upon.”
One area where the committee split along party lines was on the issue of car impoundments for drivers found to have been impaired.
A minority of committee members, all from the NDP, argued that drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.05 should have their vehicles impounded for three days.
The final report, by contrast, suggests suspending the licences of drivers found to have a blood alcohol level between 0.04 and 0.08 for three days and requiring them to enter the Driving Without Impairment program within 90 days in the case of a first offence.
The report recommends that drivers who commit a second offence should be screened for addictions and have their vehicles impounded for a week and their licences suspended for three weeks.
“The majority of members felt that it was more punitive than having to take your car right off the bat,” Hickie said.
“Two provinces in Canada do that -- Alberta and B.C. -- but no one else does. So we’re with the majority and we believe that by having the person’s licence suspended for three days, along with taking the Driving Without Impairment course for the first offence, that will have people thinking twice about driving if they’ve been having a few drinks.”