Unhaggle | Why Raising Maximum Speed Limits in Canada is a Bad Idea

Written and researched by Elliot Chan for Unhaggle.com | June 02, 2014 |


The speed limits for major cities in Canada lie in a gray area, with law enforcers and commuters being keenly aware that few drivers actually obey the rules. Most tend to exceed the speed limit in order to keep up with the flow of traffic. Whether you’re driving a sports car like a Viper or a hatchback like a Yaris, you are probably driving “too fast.” Therefore any vehicle has the potential of violating the limit without firm conviction that they have done anything out of the norm.

And that is what causes frustration for the majority of drivers, especially those that get pulled over.

An ambiguous law or a law enforced without consistency is not only a nuisance, but also a blemish on society. Determining and understanding the thin line between acceptable and criminal is a large step toward mitigating accidents, recklessness and ignorance. But should the speed limit actually be increased?

Speeding or excessive speeding?

Although speeding is a major problem, most drivers generally follow the pack. If the pack travels safely at 70 km/h in a 50 km/h max zone, it is not the drivers who need to change; it is the law that should be reconsidered. Right? Not necessarily.

It seems that a speed limit is a very subjective thing. When it comes to the comfort of a driver, many consider it safer to drive a bit faster than to drag behind on a freeway. It’s important to note that police understand this phenomenon as well, and often only pull drivers over who are “excessively” speeding; that is not just keeping up with traffic, but aggressively challenging it—changing lanes and slipping through—trying to break ahead of the pack.

To raise the limit to 70 km/h in a former 50 km/h zone may give many less-skilled drivers anxiety, while bumping up the excessive speed limit to 90 km/h, instead of a steady 70 km/h. The excessive speeders will simply go faster, causing an even riskier outcome.

What other countries are doing differently?

Many developed countries have reputations for being safe places to drive, including Denmark, Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden to name a few. In 2009 rankings done by the World Health Organization, Canada was ranked 25th out of 178 countries with the least amount of traffic-related fatalities. Why aren’t we number one? What can be changed?

The countries ahead of Canada in the rankings don’t fine drivers more or have an unreasonable speed limit. Instead, those countries are stricter when it comes to drivers’ skill evaluations. Countries that enable drivers to operate a vehicle with minimal skill requirements tend to have the higher percentage of accidents. Safety features and road safety also play a major role, but if Canada would like to be ranked higher, we would not only need to change the behaviour of our drivers, but our educational standards as well. You can view the full list on this site.

Are there alternatives to adjusting the law?

Regulating traffic has changed a lot since the dawn of the automobile. Cameras and speed traps are often used to enforce the law. With the advances in technology, the Province of British Columbia, for example, has installed induction loops and speed counter-classifiers into the streets to measure traffic patterns. These additions record the speed of all the vehicles passing by, accumulating data such as traffic volume, daily speeds and the percentage of vehicles exceeding the speed limit. This information is then used for research.

Some believe that examining the problem is not good enough to solve it, however. Many indications show that with a consistent implementation of traffic laws 3,000 daily deaths worldwide could be avoided. Those who were caught speeding and suffered a severe fine or a light sentence are at a lower risk of being involved in a fatal accident.

Other researchers deem that going slowly and following the rules is the best way to advocate safety. SENSE BC, an organization built around the premise of educating drivers and not simply regulating them, considers a more liberal approach. On a graph entitled “Speed Variance and Crash Risk,” the stats show that collisions are actually more common at a slower speed. Most accidents are minimized when drivers are 10-15 km/h over the speed limit, which contradicts a lot of popular beliefs.

Are there other factors to consider?

Are low speed limits the real problem then? Or should we blame bad drivers, low-quality roads and poor weather conditions? Many factors come into play when an accident occurs—so it’s not simply the speed. Weather, time of day, negligence, etc. are all worth considering when an accident occurs. Having the speed limit where it offers room for flexibility is probably the best option at the moment.

Perhaps highway maximum speed limits can be adjusted based on factors like time of day, weather conditions or the driver’s skill level—like in the case of school or park zones. For example, we can have an 80-km/h limit during peak rush hours, a 100-km/h limit from dusk to dawn, etc.

When safety is at play, we shouldn’t take anything lightly. It’s natural for some to say that the speed limit should be raised, but there are too many drivers of different skill levels on the road to determine whether the implementation will actually improve the roads for some without hindering others.

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