Alberta drivers have been speeding up.

The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) and the Alberta Motor Association (AMA) conducted a survey of their members, asking what dangerous driving behaviours they have been seeing on the roads.

The survey was conducted earlier this month.

The most surprising finding is that speeding was identified as the number one concern, nationally and in Alberta. It had not
been ranked in the top five
for at least the past seven years.

Jeff Kasbrick, AMA’s Vice President of Government and Stakeholder Relations, says with more people staying at home because of Covid-19, there’s less traffic. And when we have open road in front of us, our foot weighs a bit heavier on the accelerator.

“Psychologically, when we see wide open roadways, we naturally adapt what we believe to be safe,” he said. “And so either wittingly or unwittingly, we can find that our speedometer goes up a little bit more and maybe  our foot is a little bit heavier than what we would normally intend to be. We believe that in this open road we have the ability to be a little bit riskier than we normally would be under normal traffic volume conditions.”

The top five hazardous behaviours reported in the Alberta survey were speeding, drivers using their phones behind the wheel, drivers talking on their phones, aggressive driving, and reckless or stunt driving. Forty-six per cent of respondents reported speeding as a concern. Phone use, the second-highest-reported behaviour, was named by 24 per cent.

“That is a very fascinating and equally troubling outcome,” Kasbrick said, “in part because speeding has not been an issue that has been raised within the top five traffic safety concerns of Albertans and Canadians for a number of years now. 

“Often we’re hearing about risky driving behaviours, stunting, road rage, or distracted driving as being some of those perennial and consistent topics. But certainly we’re getting a little bit of a different impression with this being not only within the top five, but topping the list.”

All of the identified behaviours are dangerous, but the prevalence of speeding is of particular concern, Kasbrick said. Speeding is single largest determinant of the probability of being in a collision, and of the potential for a severe collision or a fatality. 

“And we also know that as a pedestrian, we are even less protected than we would
be in a vehicle” he said. “Fatalities for pedestrians exponentially increase after around the 50 kilometer per hour mark. The research is very compelling.”

Lighter traffic doesn’t make speeding safer. When driving in town, a motorist might have to react to pedestrians, children, animals, cyclists, motorcycles and other cars and trucks. Even on the open highways, wildlife can appear suddenly.

“We need to keep in mind that when we’re going faster, we cover a lot more ground in our reaction time and our braking time. And so it’s that graph that we all saw when we were taking our learners, that the amount of ground that we are covering at 100 kilometres or 80 kilometres is certainly a lot more ground than what we’re covering at 30 or 50 kilometres,” Kasbrick said.

“Our driving environment can change quite rapidly, and we aren’t just speaking about collisions with other vehicles or pedestrians, but all forms of road users, if you will, or all those that interact with us. And so wildlife collisions and most especially in rural areas are a very serious and very frequent issue that we’re dealing with.”

While the survey deals with respondents’ perceptions and opinions, police statistics show similar results.
Kasbrick says Edmonton police raised the alarm about speeding as early as March and April, when pandemic measures were coming into force. It was not uncommon for them to report drivers travelling 40 kilometres per hour above posted speed limits. In one case, a driver was caught doing 119 in a 50 kilometre per hour construction zone.

Kasbrick says road safety is AMA’s primary concern. 

“AMA is proud to be Alberta’s largest and oldest traffic safety advocate. We really got our start as an organization in traffic safety, and our membership of nearly a million members are very committed to protecting the things that matter the most,” he said. “Our safety behind the wheel and our ability to be mobile is very important to us as an organization and to our membership, and we need to be making sure that we’re doing that safely.”

Our degree of comfort behind the wheel often shows up as complacency, he said, and it can be easy to fall into dangerous driving behaviours.

“Driving is the riskiest activity that we do in a day, and we also do it every day. And we have a natural tendency to maybe get a little bit comfortable behind the wheel, because a lot of us have driven for many years,” he said.

“It’s very important for us to be always refreshing our driving knowledge and skill, and always being mindful of the kind of driver that we are.”