Accidents waiting to happen

Randy Simms
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An interesting report out of British Columbia last week garnered surprise in some quarters.

B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone is going to allow an increase in speed limits on some of that province’s highways. On at least three major roads the speed limit will rise to 120 kilometres an hour, while 30 others will see increases from 80 and 90 km/h to 100 and 110 km/h. By the time you read this, most of the changes will have been implemented.

Call me a skeptic, but don’t higher speeds lead to more accidents? The RCMP and the Association of Police Chiefs certainly think so and they opposed the move, but the government went ahead  anyway.

“Driver democracy” is the phrase coined to justify it. The thinking is this: most people drive at a speed they find comfortable and ignore posted speed limits deemed too low.

A spokesman with the National Motorists Association in the United States, John Bowman, puts it this way: “I think there is a realization that traffic tends to find its own flow, and if you are going below that, you might be the one causing the safety risk.”

Bowman and his supporters, including the B.C. government, seem to think slower drivers are the dangerous ones on the highways — not the speeders.

The idea of increasing speed limits is becoming a trendy debate and others in Canada are being urged to follow B.C.’s lead.

Ontario has a group, STOP 100, advocating for higher speed limits, founded by Chris Klimek.

“We keep preserving these political speed limits” Klimek says, “because politicians lack the political courage to admit their speed limits are wrong.”

STOP 100 would like to see speeds increase to 130 km/h on some stretches of Ontario highway.

So, where did the 100 km/h speed limit come from anyway? It  was imposed in the 1970s, not as a safety measure, but as a conservation tool.

Fuel shortages during that era led to a national speed limit designed to save gas. Proponents of new speed limits argue that the arbitrary number had nothing to do with road safety.

Supporters of higher speeds also point to road engineering studies which state that vehicle collisions are reduced on higher-speed highways. They also suggest we set speed limits based on the speeds drivers use — it’s called the 85 per cent principle.

“Facts are facts,” Todd Stone says. “When you have motorists all generally moving at the same rate of speed as opposed to people moving much faster or much slower than the natural flow of speed, you are going to have a safer corridor.”

If we took the Outer Ring Road as an example and applied the 85 per cent rule, the speed limit would be 125 km/h or more, and on the TCH it would be at least 120 km/h.

Forgive me, but I can’t see this producing a safer highway.

“Certainly, I understand the concerns relating to speed,” Stone said, “But I think what we are seeing around the world and North America, as well, is a growing recognition of the fact that it’s not so much speed in and of itself that causes collisions, but variations in speed.”

I accept the premise that drivers will travel at speeds they are comfortable with, usually ignoring  signs, especially in good conditions, but there are other things to consider. While speed itself may not kill, our reaction time is limited and our ability to react properly to danger on the highway has to be compromised by higher speed. Driver distraction alone kills thousands in this country every year, and that’s  at lower speeds.

Now we propose that the near-misses get recorded in the full-on accident and injury category?

There may be a growing consensus that faster is safer, but I find it counterintuitive.

One thing is certain though: the debate is coming our way.

Randy Simms is a political commentator and broadcaster. He can be reached at

rsimms@nf.sympatico.ca

Twitter: @RandyRsimms

Organizations: RCMP, Association of Police Chiefs, National Motorists Association

Geographic location: Ontario, United States, Canada Outer Ring Road North America

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  • 1inOntario
    August 20, 2014 - 19:23

    Dear Mr. Simms, Considering that 100km/h is the slowest rural highway speed limit in the entire developed world, it would seem reasonable to increase the speed limits up to global standards. The majority of Canadian provinces fall into the "worlds slowest category" when it comes to highway speed limits. It's certainly not something to be proud of I must say. Therefore it would seem prudent to increase the highway speed limits to the global standards of 120 - 130km/h . I sincerely hope you are not trying to hinder progress in Canada.

  • Michael Geoghegan
    August 20, 2014 - 11:52

    In Germany highway accident rates are only about half what they are in Canada. In both the US and Europe eg Denmark when speed limits were recently raised accidents declined. Speed limits set to 85 percentile coupled with enforced keep right except to pass laws save lives. What the author doesn't understand is that safe drivers go with the flow and when police are about enforcing low speed limits traffic conditions get more congested and more dangerous.

  • Wally
    August 20, 2014 - 11:20

    An important thing to remember is that 120km/h is not fast. It only sounds fast, because we still think in mph and we all know that 100mph is fast. 120km is about 70 mph, that was the speed limit on many roads in the 60's & 70's when cars were a shadow of what they are today.

  • James C. Walker
    August 20, 2014 - 08:57

    Setting posted limits at the 85th percentile speed of free flowing traffic under good conditions rounded to the nearest 10 kph or 5 mph interval has been known for 70+ years to almost always produce the smoothest and safest traffic flow with the fewest crashes. Speculating about the physics of a possible crash to justify painting some arbitrary lower number on the signs that most drivers will utterly ignore is NOT traffic safety engineering. It is bad politics. James C. Walker, Life Member - National Motorists Association, a 1.6+ million kilometer driver in 24 world countries

  • Too Funny
    August 11, 2014 - 13:37

    "So, where did the 100 km/h speed limit come from anyway? It was imposed in the 1970s, not as a safety measure, but as a conservation tool. " I think you got that wrong. I think in the '70s the limit was dropped to 90kph as a conservation measure.

  • Nichol
    August 11, 2014 - 09:10

    No Mr.Simms, the 100 km/hr speed limit did not come about as a conservation measure in Canada. The speed limit on most highways was 60 miles per hour prior to the adoption of the metric system in Canada. 60 mph equates to 96.56 km/hr. That is a difficult speed to read on a speedometer as well as a radar gun. 100km/hr is actually 62.13 mph, an increase in speed, but is much easier to read on instruments. Many 4 lane divided highways in Canada have posted speeds of 110 or 120 km/hr, and are perfectly safe to drive on. We don't have much in the way of 4 lane divided highways across NL. Sadly, too much of the two lane Trans Canada Highway in our province is not safe for even 100km/hr in many conditions, particularly in rain due to ruts. As far as Provincial roads go, there aren't too many of them posted at 100km/hr, most are 80 and many not too safe even for that. Your point of 100km/hr speed limits in Canada being adopted as a conservation measure is not correct, and is confused with the 55mph limit, which was imposed in the US as a conservation measure in the 70's.

  • Scott Manning
    August 09, 2014 - 23:09

    Mr. Simms appears to believe that we should all perish with old age before we get where we are going. Speed alone does not cause accidents. An alert, experienced driver in a roadworthy vehicle should have no problem driving at 140km on a clear, dry day. The problem is 1-a lot of people have never learned how to drive, they learned just enough to pass the test and then promptly began to forget what they have learned. 2-if most drivers looked where they were going, there would be far less accidents. 3-half the cars on the road are not mechanically sound. Poor tires head the list and since the government, in it's wisdom, cancelled inspections, a lot of drivers don't know their vehicles are not safe. 4-The various police forces have a ready cash cow in speeding tickets. They fill their coffers and justify their jobs handing out tickets under the guise of making the roads safe. Bull. Why don't they enforce the laws about cell phones, running red lights, not using signal lights etc? Because speeding tickets are easy to hand out with radar and hard to fight, and the public is hoodwinked into believing that it's doing some good. Why else is the speed limit between Majors Path and Torbay at 50km and 2 RNC cars patrol it every day? Most other roads of this type are at 70km. EASY MONEY. 5-If people had sense enough to keep right except to pass, we wouldn't have near as many problems. Instead, the ignorant hog the passing lane, pull out to pass a mile before they reach what they want to pass and force others to pass on the right.6-Driving too fast for road conditions is a real problem, but that's driving too fast when it's raining or snowing etc. Driving fast on a clear, dry day is not the same thing, even though it's called the same. It's about time we had some sensible speed limits here as well as the rest of the country. And if the new limits are too fast for Mr. Simms, I suggest he stay in the right lane. And I would appreciate if you printed this.

    • Dolf
      August 11, 2014 - 14:53

      You covered most of the bases Scott. When was the last time you saw a pick-up in the right lane on the Outer Ring Road? Does'nt matter of he's from Torbay or St. Anthony there's no way he's getting back in the right lane. Crazy mindset these guys have.