Merging Traffic Enforcement with Rural Life in Alberta

Article excerpt

Evidence indicates that in Alberta injuries and fatalities due to traffic collisions are of a higher proportion and greater severity in rural areas than in urban areas. Although one response to this finding may be to increase police traffic enforcement, another possible solution may lie in merging traffic enforcement with the local culture. As such, congruent with the increasing emphasis on the social environment as a determinant of health, this study was designed to seek greater insight into rural drivers' socio-cultural characteristics, as they relate to traffic law enforcement. A cohort of 212 individuals from rural areas in north, central and south Alberta was recruited to participate in focus group interviews. Questions asked related to meaning of civic society, justice, driving, risks, law making and law enforcement. The results of the study were embedded in three general themes that emerged from the data: laws, safety and enforcement. These interconnected themes suggest that rural people do not directly or consistently associate laws or law enforcement with safety. Rather, the law is often viewed as an apparatus of control and punishment. In addition, it appears that safety is a flexible and dynamic concept that is filtered through priorities structured around lifestyle and livelihood. The results also suggest how external knowledge (based on theory and science) and personal knowledge (based on priorities, perception, experience and hearsay) are negotiated in the formulation of beliefs and priorities and how this negotiation may impact on roadway behavior. This paper concludes with a recommendation that traffic safety and enforcement structures and practices must become more relevant to personal knowledge in order to have real change in driving behavior.

Evidence indicates that in North America, injuries and fatalities due to traffic collisions are of a higher proportion (Thompson & Russel, 1994) and greater severity (Miles-Doan & Kelly, 1995) in rural areas than in urban areas. Thus, rural drivers have become a featured topic in the traffic safety debate (Alberta Transportation, 2002; Baker, O'Neill, Ginsburg & Ghuoy, 1992; National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, 2002). For example, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2001, rural fatal crashes accounted for 61% of all traffic fatalities and 39% of the vehicle miles traveled. Furthermore, rural inhabitants account for only 21% of the American population. In the same year 74.2% of all fatal collisions in Alberta occurred in rural areas (Alberta Transportation, 2002). Findings such as these have sent an alarm into the traffic safety community, underscoring the need for more traffic enforcement.

According to research, traffic enforcement is believed to have four main effects on driver behavior. One is the "punishment effect," whereby high-risk drivers will be taken off the roads if or when they are stopped by police (Derbyshire, 2004). Second is a "view effect," occurring when a driver sees police enforcement on the side of the road and thereby changes his or her behavior. A third effect is "memory effect," found when a driver travels the same stretch of road and knows the probability of police enforcement at certain locations. Finally, fourth is the "halo" effect, occurring when enforcement influences behavior over a wide geographic area (Rothengatter, 1982). Hauer, Ahlin and Bowser (1982) studied the direct local effects of visible enforcement on speeding in four experiments in Metropolitan Toronto. When enforcement was visible, average speeds were sharply reduced by approximately 15 kilometers per hour at the sites. In addition, Rothengatter (1991) reviewed the use of automatic policing systems for increasing compliance with traffic law. Based on this review, he proposed that their use be extended, their current deficiencies corrected, and that "smart card" use be developed to allow violations to be read and taxed at license time. …