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Nov 15

Touring the North


It was a quiet day in September on Highway 63. We had started our journey to visit several communities along Highway 63 and 881 when, just past Grasslands, the car coming towards us started to pull into our lane over a double solid line. We counted down: 1000 feet away, then 500 feet away and still no movement from the driver to get back into their lane. In the end, we were forced out of our lane and onto the shoulder of the highway in order to avoid a very serious collision.

Incidents like these happen every day on our highways and to prevent them, we need to better understand what the issues are and why they are happening. That’s why we decided to put a team together to visit communities along Highway 63 and 881. Our team was led by Debbie Hammond, our Executive Director, and included Tracey Thompson, our Communications Committee Chair, and Rod Randolph and Luke Johnstone from ATS Traffic Group.

What We Set Out to Do
We sat down with local stakeholders in northern Alberta to find out what traffic safety issues are impacting their communities most. Highway 63 and 881 serve as the routes in and out of the oil sands, but are also the life lines for the communities lining them. To reduce fatalities on these roads, we’re committed to working together to keep road users safe.

Our First Stop: Fort McMurray
Our first community visit was to Fort McMurray where stakeholders including RCMP, Alberta Transportation, Safe Communities Wood Buffalo, Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Brain Injury Foundation, Diversified and Alberta Health Services all shared the same views: distracted driving is a serious issue on Highway 63 and 881.

Speeding is also an unwavering concern and seems to be almost acceptable among Fort McMurray road users. Our stakeholders often hear comments like, “if the road conditions and weather are good I drive faster but it’s safe.”

But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Unsafe speed was a factor in 25% of fatal collisions in Alberta in 2014 and, according to the Canadian Automobile Association, distracted driving can increase your risk of a crash by 23 times.

On to Lac La Biche
After our roundtable in Fort McMurray, we made our way to Lac La Biche where Mayor Moghrabi, the Lac La Biche County Chief Accounting Officer, Alberta Health Services, Alberta Transportation, RCMP, Peace Officers and commercial enforcement shared that speeding is a problem due to a lack of enforcement.

Lac La Biche also echoed the same concerns as Fort McMurray around distracted and impaired driving.

What’s Next?
After Lac La Biche, we joined an evening trade fair in Conklin for the community’s youth. It was another great opportunity to connect with community members about their local road safety issues, with the goal of returning for a formal roundtable soon.

Want to help us improve traffic safety in the north? Visit our Facebook page for regular updates and to share your own Highway 63 and 881 experiences.