'Pace cars' a possibility to slow speeders on Fredericton streets

Fredericton is considering creating a fleet of pace cars to curb speeding in the city, but the Edmonton program that inspired the idea has been scrapped because of road rage.

City-owned vehicles driving exactly the speed limit may be Fredericton's next anti-speeding strategy

The Riverview Community Association in Cochrane, Alta., has been testing pace cars for a year without much incident, but in Edmonton, drivers reacted with road rage to cars that obeyed the speed limit. (CBC News)

A City of Fredericton fleet of cars, vans and half-tonne trucks may be transformed into "pace cars" — vehicles that always, strictly obey the speed limit, forcing any drivers following behind to do the same. 

But the Edmonton program that inspired Fredericton's proposal has been scrapped, since the volunteer drivers, proudly displaying their "pace car" decals, were treated to road rage in return. 

The Fredericton proposal, meant to tackle persistent speed issues, means the city-owned vehicles would have "pace car" stickers on the back, similar to those used in Edmonton.

Stephen Chase, chair of Fredericton's public safety and environment committee, said this idea — along with other speed-controlling strategies such as electronic signs — was inspired in part by a 2014 traffic report from Edmonton.

Fredericton Coun. Stephen Chase says pace cars are just one possibility in the city's efforts to make roads safer. (Philip Drost/CBC)

Gerry Shimko, executive director for the City of Edmonton traffic safety section, said the program there had fewer than  50 volunteers who displayed the pace car sticker and drove the speed limit in different areas in the city.

After a few years, it became clear the program was not sustainable because of what the volunteers were going through, he said.

"Basically [other drivers] were tailgating them or they would pass them at high rates of speeds," Shimko said.

"A lot of drivers were showing their displeasure in many different ways, which for people volunteering to do something to create safer communities, it wasn't very comfortable for them."

City cars versus volunteers

Pace cars are not a new idea. Some suburbs used them as far back as 2008. A lot of the time they were volunteer-based movements, with people taking a pledge to become a pace car driver and either following the speed limit at all times or driving in school zones during peak hours to control speed.

That's how Edmonton did it, as well as the Town of Stratford in Prince Edward Island. But in Stratford, with a population of 8,500 people, the story has been different.

Stratford Mayor David Dunphy said volunteers have been sticking to the speed limit for a little over two years and it's been "going great."

"I don't think that road rage would play a factor because obviously you're driving the speed limit. You're not causing any issues or any harm to anyone else. I don't think we have a huge problem with road rage here anyways."

Chase said the timeline for Fredericton is not clear yet, but the pace car program will begin with city-owned vehicles first. He said city vehicles should not be speeding anyway.

If Fredericton goes with a pace car program, this city truck, parked downtown, could become part of the safety fleet. (Daniel McHardie/CBC)

"There should be no rocket science here. We should be driving the speed limit. "

If that's a success, he said, the city might consider opening the door for volunteers.

"If people are willing to drive the speed limit and place a poster in the back of their vehicle, we might be open to that, but we haven't taken that discussion that far," Chase said.

Chase did not know about Edmonton saying goodbye to the pace car, but said that's something police and city engineers will consider when deciding whether to go ahead with pace cars.

"I think before we take such a move we would want to review factors like that," he said. 

"I'm not certain whether road rage should be fatal to a program that's oriented towards public safety, because if road rage is brought on by someone going the speed limit, then that's just totally wrong."

He said this is one of a few strategies the city is considering to control speeding and bad traffic accidents in the city. Other strategies include portable "driver feedback" signs that will be set up in spots where speeding is especially bad.