Speed limit review upcoming for B.C. highways Ryan Lehal October 30, 2013 Those with the need for speed will soon have their chance to tell the B.C. government exactly how they feel about the current speed-limits on highways across the province and for some it is long overdue. The provincial government has called for a review of speed-limits along both major and rural highways throughout B.C., according to a press release from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure dated Oct. 4, 2013. “We want to ensure those travelling on our highways can do so as safely and efficiently as possible, and we’re interested in what British Columbians have to say as our review of speed limits and other important safety issues moves forward,” said Transportation Minister Todd Stone in the press release. According to an article published in The Province by John Ferry on July 10, 2013, the current highest highway speed limit in B.C. is 110 km/h, unchanged from what it was listed at in the report for the last review of highway speeds which was produced by Michigan based Wade-Trim for the Ministry of Transportation in 2003. A decade later, Ian Tootill, advocate and co-founder of SENSE B.C., feels that it is about time the government is taking action. “They had the information ten years ago” Tootill said in an interview on Oct. 15. “The [upcoming] speed limit review is going to tell us what we already know and that’s that speed limits are too low on many roadways and highways.” Tootill along with SENSE B.C. argue that most speed-limits should be raised as a majority of motorists are already travelling well above the maximum limits across many B.C. highways. “We have demanded that speed limits be made to reflect the 85th percentile which is the upper end of safe travel speed for the majority of motorists” said Tootill. As explained on the Ministry of Transportation website, speed limits are determined by the 85th percentile principle. This means that speed limits should be set as close to the travelling speeds of 85 per cent of drivers under ideal conditions. The 2003 speed limit review also states that “a speed limit should seem too fast for a majority of users or it is not a maximum limit.” Critics of raising speed-limits have questioned whether or not motorists will choose to speed above the raised amount and also if the number of accidents will increase, said Tootill.
According to the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia’s (ICBC) ICBC’s facts on speed, obtained from their website, speed is “the leading cause of car crash fatalities in B.C.” outdoing both impaired and distracted driving. Though ICBC’s senior media relations officer Adam Grossman declined to comment citing that ICBC does not issue speed limits and is not leading the speed review, ICBC’s facts on speed attributes these fatalities to shortened reaction times that higher speeds allow for. However, Tootill believes that speed itself is not the cause of collisions. Instead, speed variance is to blame. Speed variance refers to when there is a difference in travelling speeds between vehicles that are occupying the same stretch of road. “If you had everything on the road going exactly the same speed [85th percentile] and as long as there wasn’t an act of god . . . there would be no chance of a collision” said Tootill. The 2003 speed limit review also agrees with this logic. It includes a study conducted in 1997 and 1998 that raised the speed limits from 90km/h to 100km/h at three ICBC monitored test site. The result was a 12.9 per cent decrease in collisions. However, according to Sgt. Aaron Sproule of the RCMP Integrated Collision Analysis and Reconstructive Service, probability for a collision doesn’t just come down to speed variance. “It’s very rare to pin down one specific causal factor as being the absolute causal factor for a collision” Sgt. Sproule said in an interview on Oct. 28. With most collisions there is going to be more than one causal factor. It’s not just speed or speed variance by themselves, he explained. For example, weather conditions and roadway designs must also be taken into account. Sgt. Sproule works in forensic collision reconstruction. Once an accident has taken place, his team will examine the scene in its entirety in order to determine how and why the collision took place. He personally believes that by tampering with speed limits, there will be no effective change in driver behaviour. “In the lower mainland, there is a tendency for drivers to exceed the speed limit” said Sgt. Sproule. “By raising the speed limits you’ll still see the same levels of speeding going on.” As part of the review, the government will hold, public forums in Vancouver, Chilliwack, Kelowna, Kamloops, Cranbrook, Dawson Creek, Nanaimo and Prince George, starting in November of this year. If Tootill’s assumption that drivers are “voting with their right feet” each time they start their engines proves to be correct, then we may see the beginning of a new era for B.C. drivers.