Increasing Vehicle Speed Lowers Driver Reaction Time

In 2014, the government of BC was persuaded to raise the speed limits on certain stretches of highway around the province to some of the highest in Canada—some stretches to 120 km/h.  One advocate was Ian Tootill, co-founder in 1995 of the driver’s advocacy group SENSE —Safety by Education Not Speed Enforcement.  SENSE advanced that speed limits reflecting the upper limit of safe travel speeds would ensure that the reasonable and safe actions of the majority of drivers were legal.

At the time SENSE posted a made-in-BC video “Speed Kills: Your Pocketbook” that ‘went viral’ on its website, www.sensebc.org.  When then Transportation Minister Todd Stone asked ministry staff to review the BC maximum highway speed limit of 110 km/h media, he was quoted saying, “Since the [last] study was done almost 10 years ago, billions of dollars have been invested to build, or upgrade most of the major corridors in British Columbia. … As well newer vehicles have more safety features. … I have asked for a review that will [consider] the latest research from around the world, as well as the specific characteristics of BC highways such as the highway geometry, local land use [the driving environment] and the volume and mix of traffic.”

When the limits were increased, the government and ICBC resolved to track the results.  The prescient RCMP Insp. Tim Walton of the Island District Traffic Services recently said, while he reserved comment at the time pending the research, he reflected on the fact that lower speeds reduce impact and the risk of severe injury or fatality.  Road Rules would add that the lower the speed the more time there is to respond to unforeseeable, sudden problems ahead.

In 2016, speed limit increases on stretches of Highways 1 and 5A in the southern Interior were rolled back due to the jump in their crash rates.

Recently (early November 2018), BC’s new Transportation Minister Claire Trevena announced more rollbacks for 15 more highways where after an unchanged first year, serious crashes jumped significantly in the next two years. The study results have shown:

  • Fatal crashes more than doubled.
  • Total auto insurance claims climbed 43%.
  • Auto insurance injury claims increased 30%.

The affected highways are as follows:

  • 1 on Vancouver Island, the Fraser Valley, and into the north Okanagan
  • 3 —a portion outside Princeton
  • 7 from Agassiz to Hope
  • 19 on Vancouver Island — 2 stretches
  • 97A and 97C —portions through the southern Interior.
  • 99 from Horseshoe Bay to Pemberton

The Minister particularly noted an “alarming” increase on several routes including Highway 19 between Parksville and Campbell River—one third more speed related crashes.  This change will reduce the higher speed limits by 10 km/h.  There will be no changes, however, on the 16 routes, including the Coquihalla Highway, where the crash rates have remained more or less unchanged.

Mr. Tootill is skeptical saying this lowering is “based on oversimplified data by an irresponsible group of academics and healthcare professionals. … and people with “a dog in the race” like truckers, and “police … writing speeding tickets for the profits of municipalities.”  Road Rules hopes the statistical tracking will continue.