Alberta looks to curb excessive speeding on highways

Alberta will consider giving police the authority to immediately seize the vehicles of people caught driving at extreme speeds as one way to reduce highway deaths and injuries.

Province to consider vehicle seizures, photo radar

Alberta will consider giving police the authority to immediately seize the vehicles of people caught driving at extreme speeds as one way to reduce highway deaths and injuries.

Transportation Minister Ric McIver said speeding is rampant in the province and noted that police recently nabbed two pickup trucks roaring down the dangerous highway between Edmonton and Fort McMurray at 180 km/h.

"I think it is worth looking at. I think it is worth it for me hearing out Albertans' opinions on this to see if they would support it," McIver said. "I think the public would support taking those vehicles right away."

In 2009, Alberta's police chiefs asked the province's solicitor general to allow on-the-spot seizure of vehicles belonging to drivers caught speeding more than 50 km/h over the limit, but the government turned them down.

At the time the chiefs wrote that police were continually nabbing people for excessive speeding and the change was needed in the interest of public safety.

B.C. seized 10,000 vehicles in 2010

A similar policy brought in by British Columbia in 2010 for people caught driving more than 40 km/h over the speed limit has resulted in 10,387 vehicles being seized and impounded for a minimum of seven days.

Within one year, the number of fatal and injury-related crashes related to speeding was cut in half to 105 compared to the previous five-year average, according to the B.C. Ministry of Justice.

"Prior to the introduction of these tougher penalties, B.C. had been experiencing an upward trend in the number of speed-related fatalities," Amy Lapsley, a Justice Ministry spokeswoman wrote in an email from Victoria.

"Research shows that impoundments work to change behaviours and we expect the recent changes will be a deterrent for dangerous drivers."

McIver said the government hasn't made any decisions yet, but it only makes sense to review B.C.'s numbers to see if such a policy would work in Alberta.

Gauging public opinion key, says McIver

Gauging public opinion before making such a change would be key, he added.

"I am willing to make it a point to research the experience that B.C. has and try to evaluate with my staff and with the opinion of Albertans to see if it would fit in with the Alberta context."

Police issued more than 3,900 speeding tickets in the province during the recent May long weekend alone.

Officers have also issued more than 500 speeding tickets on Highway 63, the only primary road between Edmonton and the oilsands region, since a fiery collision April 27 killed seven people.

McIver said the challenge facing the government is to find measures that strike a balance between dealing with all-out reckless drivers and those who are caught going 10 or 20 kilometres over the speed limit.

Under Alberta's current traffic laws, speeders who drive more than 50 kilometres over the limit are fined, given six demerit points and have to make a court appearance.

"What we need to do is make sure if we were to change the law that it is something that would catch people like that, but not unduly punish people who are not as reckless."

Highway safety under review

McIver is in charge of a government review that is looking into how to improve safety on Highway 63. As part of that review, McIver said he is prepared to consider just about anything to achieve that goal.

Other ideas include working with the energy industry and organizations such as the Alberta Motor Association to teach driver safety to workers at oilsands job sites.

Using photo radar units on Highway 63 to get drivers to slow down is another option, but the benefits of such a move would have to be weighed carefully, McIver said.

"Right now it is certainly the government's policy not to do photo radar on provincial highways and without due consideration I don't intend to change that policy," he said.

"But in the case of Highway 63, I consider everything on the table, even things that I find  uncomfortable. We certainly haven't made any decisions to do that, but we are determined to make it a place where people can travel to and fro and get home safely."

McIver said there is a "strong possibility" his ministry will make some recommendations to Premier Alison Redford on improving highway safety enforcement before the end of June.