If you are one of the hundreds of people who commute to one of Teck’s five steelmaking coal operations in the Elk Valley, then you are likely familiar with the challenges of B.C.’s Highway 3. Frequent changes in weather, poor road conditions and regular wildlife crossings have all contributed to motor vehicle accidents, which have become an all-too regular occurrence in the past years on this particular stretch of highway.
After four fatalities in vehicle accidents on local highways in just the first three months of 2016, the surrounding communities of Sparwood, Fernie and Elkford decided it was time to unite in an effort to inspire change by raising awareness around road safety in the region.
Working with the Elk Valley Safety Association and with strong support from Teck, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure representatives, local emergency first responders, and influencers in the business community joined together as a committee to launch the Safer Highways campaign, with the goal of decreasing the frequency and severity of vehicle incidents. The campaign set out to highlight the importance of obeying laws, observing signs, wearing seatbelts, watching for wildlife, stopping if fatigued, and ensuring all vehicles are maintained and properly equipped for the road conditions. With that understanding, Safer Highways set out a call to action, asking people to commit to eliminating at-risk driving behaviours, including speed, distracted or impaired driving, and road condition unpreparedness.
To kick off the campaign, in April 2016 the committee called on community members to attend a meeting in which they would make a pledge, called the Safer Highways Promise, personally committing themselves to safer driving behaviours. Nearly 100 people in attendance came forward to sign a poster that listed the commitments, as well as to share stories of how their own lives had been impacted by highway collisions.
“We knew the campaign would be most effective if we were able to make an emotional appeal to people, and by calling on people to publicly pledge themselves to the Safer Highways Promise, we were able to do just that,” says Ian Benson, Safer Highways Committee spokesperson.
From there, the committee moved into the next phase of their efforts, taking the campaign’s message to social media and releasing a poignant video illustrating how vehicle tragedies affect more than the victims themselves, an impact referred to as the ripple effect within Courageous Safety Leadership at Teck. To date, the Safer Highways video has been viewed nearly 13,000 times and continues to be shared widely on social media.
“We make a lot of decisions in our lives that decide the lives of others,” says Brett Ray, whose daughter was seriously injured in a car accident and is featured in the video. “I think we tend to forget that we all belong to other people and that we are all tied together.”
The video was followed up by activations at community events over the summer, where Safer Highways posters and stickers were distributed, and by a collaboration with a local radio station to promote the initiative.
In September, the Safer Highways campaign rolled out across Teck’s steelmaking coal operations, with all employees taking part in a Safer Highways presentation, and signing their own Safer Highways Promise.
“Teck’s involvement in the program underscores our commitment to safety, and to the value we place on extending that beyond the workplace into the communities in which our employees live,” says Robin Sheremeta, Senior Vice President, Coal.
And the campaign’s commitment to inspiring change has resulted in just that. The RCMP has noted a decrease in vehicle incidents in the region, which they attribute to the reach and impact of Safer Highways. The committee has also received a great deal of anecdotal feedback from the Elk Valley Safety Association and local emergency first responders, along with stories of people holding each other accountable and reporting personal changes in behaviours.
The campaign is continuing its push to drive change, most recently aligning with RoadWatchBC to help promote its “Shift into Winter” campaign and partnering with the Fernie Fire Department to support a Family Safety Day, where local firefighters simulated a vehicle rescue for families.
As for next steps, the focus will now shift to young drivers, with plans to share the Safer Highways campaign with local students in Grades 10 to 12, spreading the message that safe driving behaviours have a ripple effect to the next generation of citizens in the region.
Safer Highway Promise
I promise to do all that I can to arrive safely at my destination while travelling on our roads for work or for play.
I will maintain my vehicle in good condition:
- My lights will be clean and working, my windshield will be clean and clear at all times, and my vehicle will have the right tires for the season.
- I will always use my seatbelt while travelling in any vehicle, and I will be responsible for the safety of everyone in my vehicle.
I will respect all highway rules:
- I will reduce my speed to road conditions and drive only to my ability, I will only pass when safe to do so, I will slow down and pull over when passing maintenance and emergency vehicles, and I will obey all highway rules and posted traffic signs.
- I will not drive tired or impaired by alcohol or drugs.
I will give my full attention while operating my vehicle:
- I will be alert to changing road conditions, other traffic and wildlife, and
- I will not text or use my cell phone while driving.
- I will be courteous and considerate to others who are travelling our roads. Safer highways begin with my promise.
Others rely on me to do my part so we all have a safe journey.
I sign this promise for myself, my family, my friends and my co-workers who travel our roads.