August 28, 2006
Fines resulting in safer construction zones
A recent crash that occurred in Ajax, killing 12-year-old William Gordon of Whitby, highlighted concerns about traffic safety in construction zones.
Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Sgt. Cam Woolley reported that a truck slammed into a Pontiac Sunfire that had come to a stop in a construction zone on the westbound 401 near Salem Road.
The Ontario government’s Bill 169 — the Transportation Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005 — came into effect on March 31, 2006, doubling fines for speeding in construction zones where workers are present, and creating new signs that clearly delineate the zones and warn of the new fine structure. Under the Bill, Ontario municipalities were given new power under the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) to designate construction zones on roads in their jurisdictions without having to pass a by-law.
It also became an offence to disobey a traffic control person’s signs, with offenders subject to fines of between $60 and $500 and penalties of three demerit points.
The laws were changed, in part, because of dismal Ontario traffic safety statistics that showed 50 people were killed and 3,000 injured in provincial and municipal highway work zones between 1999 and 2003.
“We’ve had evidence to suggest that in other jurisdictions where they increased fines in construction work zones that it was effective in reducing worker-public interactions,” says Doug McVittie, director of operations of the Construction Safety Association of Ontario.
Ontario’s law, however, differs from some jurisdictions in that the increased fines are in effect only when workers are present.
“That was included as trade-off to address situations when the public sees miles and miles of barricades and no work going on,” says McVittie.
“We didn’t want them to start asking ‘what’s the sense or logic behind this.’”
A similar amendment to the Alberta Traffic Safety Act also doubled fines in construction zones.
While recent statistics show no fatalities or near-misses, Edmonton Police Service (EPS) has reported a record rate of speeding infractions since late July, says Jeff Wuite, Public Information Officer with EPS.
“At one point we were seeing 51 infractions per hour,” says Wuite.
“Although the legislation has been in place for several months, people just haven’t gotten the message yet.”
Are Ontario laws working?
“It will be a while before we see the impact of a change of that nature,” says David Guptill, vice president, Human Resources with LaFarge Canada.
“My understanding is that at this stage, the primary focus has been on education rather than enforcement.”
Guptill says that some drivers still don’t recognize the authority of construction workers directing traffic through a work zone.
“Their reaction to that person runs the gamut from tremendous cooperation to unbelievable actions, including a case last year when a driver deliberately hit a worker directing traffic,” he says.
Although Bill 169 was passed in March, the new construction zone signs didn’t become common until May or June says Jim Lafontaine co-chair of the Ontario Road Builders’ Association Health and Safety Committee and Health, Safety and Environmental Manager at Dufferin Construction.
“Before we assess the effectiveness of the laws, we’d like to see some pilot projects with photo radar,” he says.
“In most cases a construction zone doesn’t even allow enough space for an OPP car to remain on the site and to pull over drivers who violate the law.”
“While we’re generally not supportive of photo radar, we would support it in construction zones where the radar is clearly marked,” says Kris Barnier, provincial affairs specialist with the Ontario division of the Canadian Automobile Association.
“Unmarked photo radar doesn’t address the problem immediately, but when people see a marked photo radar unit, they will slow down.”
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