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How Fast Should We Drive?

BC municipal politicians will gather in Vancouver this week to discuss 155 policy resolutions at the Union of BC Municipalities Convention. One resolution endorsed by the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities proposes amending the BC Motor Vehicle Act “to limit the default speed limit on a highway in a municipality to 40 km/h and to allocate implementation funds to assist municipalities in installing signage for higher speeds where appropriate.”

This “40 km/h” resolution cites concerns about resident safety on municipal streets, the fact that lower vehicle speeds reduce the severity of injuries to pedestrians in vehicle/pedestrian collisions, and that consistency in province-wide speed limits promotes driver awareness and eases enforcement between municipalities.

It may be pure coincidence but support for quite the opposite approach is being advanced with renewed vigour thanks to the recently released made-in-BC video “Speed Kills: Your Pocketbook.” Written and produced by UBC law graduate and articling student Chris Thompson, the video is accessible on the Safety by Education Not Speed Enforcement (SENSE) website —www.sensebc.org.

SENSE is the driver’s advocacy group founded by Ian Toothill in 1995 to “support speed limits that reflect the UPPER limit of SAFE travel speeds to ensure the reasonable and safe actions of the majority of drivers are legal.” The video is a hit, Toothill reporting that it logged 140,000 views in its first 24 hours online and that it has continued to receive about 8,000 viewings per hour since.

The topic of optimum highway speeds is also under debate elsewhere. In Michigan, state legislators will vote soon on increasing highway speed limits from 70 mph to 80 mph (130 kph). This proposal prompted The Windsor Star newspaper to editorialize on August 31, 2013 as follows: “There’s every reason to believe that the 401 [highway in Ontario] and other major highways will be safer with a higher limit, and police officers will have more time to weed out bad drivers.”

Back in BC, Transportation Minister Todd Stone, from Kamloops, and Premier Christy Clark, now the MLA for Westside-Kelowna have asked ministry staff to review the BC maximum highway speed limit of 110 km/h. The National Post newspaper quoted Minister Stone as follows: “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, Because of these changes, I don’t think it’s prudent to respond to recommendations based on 10-year-old data. I have asked for a review that will take into account 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.”

Minister Stone went on to say he had “no opinion on a maximum speed limit” only that he looked forward to hearing from British Columbians who are, in many cases, local experts on the highways they use.” Road Rules looks forward to the results of the studies underlying the renewed interest in this topic and to the debates and their outcomes.

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