There’s absolutely no way to sugar coat this: the previous Liberal provincial government’s 2014 decision to increase speed limits on some major rural highways has resulted in a 118 per cent increase of fatalities on those roads.

A comprehensive study published in Sustainability was co-authored by physicians at Vancouver General  and road safety engineers at the University of British Columbia (Okanagan). The study confirms that  “fatalities, injuries, crashes and insurance claims on some B.C. roads are linked to a 2014 decision by the former provincial government to raise speed limits on the rural highways” as reported in the Vancouver Sun.

The study surmises that “communities across Canada, especially those with slippery winter roads or those where roads traverse mountainous terrain, “should learn from this experience and resist pressure from pro speed advocates to raise speed limits without due consideration to road safety.”

Not only did the higher speed limits result in a 43 per cent increase in vehicular insurance claims, there was also a 30 per cent increase in claims for crash caused injuries. Looking at fatalities, injuries and total crashes, the researchers were frustrated that their early data indicating that speed kills was not acted upon.

Gordon Lovegrove, a leader in the study and an associate professor at UBC Okanagan stated  “Waiting three years in the face of our early findings borders on excess. I applaud the ministry’s decision to consider all options but would appreciate if a more collaborative approach were taken, including their B.C. (academic) colleagues, as opposed to taking the additional time and valuable resources to repeat our analysis that has been published in an independent peer-reviewed journal.”

When the increased highway speed was implemented  there was push back from the public health community (including Medical Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall’s excellent 2016 report Where the Rubber Meets the Road) that was largely ignored by the previous provincial  government. Dr. Kendall’s ground breaking report points at speeding as a major cause of death, and famously recommended lowering speed limits across the Province.

The 2014  speed limit increases made some sections in the Okanagan the fastest in Canada with posted speeds of 120 kilometres per hour. No response yet from the Province on how they will address the carnage and injuries. In a Province with a provincially supported motor vehicle insurance, universal health care, and a quest for sustainability, lowering road speeds and enforcing them just makes sense. A poll by Mario Canseco indicated that 70 per cent of British Columbians are supportive of a camera enforcement system for road speed. It’s time to tie in vehicular movement  with road safety, focusing on safe arrival versus speed.

Images: CBC and CTV


  1. I drove the Coquihalla Hwy a few times this summer and even though the limit was 120 km/hr, I found that uncomfortable so I set the cruise control to 110 km/hr and at that speed I felt like I was moving comfortably with traffic and even passing people. Which implies a couple things: most people are not looking to drive very fast through mountain highways, and those that are will be dealing with greater speed variance than typical roads.

  2. And yet, if you scroll down the page on the Sustainability site you’ll see another analysis titled Study: Higher Interstate Speed Limit Proves Safe For Indiana. The report opens by saying “Researchers at Purdue University have determined that raising the speed limit from 65 to 70 on Interstate 65 in Indiana has not increased the probability of fatalities or severe injuries.”

    The quote which stands out is:

    “Understanding the magnitude of the safety impact of increasing speed limits, or whether safety is improved or compromised, remains a contentious subject, Mannering said.

    That’s because research has not been able to convincingly unravel the effects of speed limit changes from factors such as speed enforcement; vehicle miles traveled; vehicle occupancy; seat belt usage; alcohol use; proportions of passenger cars, minivans, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles; and vehicle safety features, including air bags and antilock brakes.”

    It seems incredibly unlikely that you can pick one factor out to the hundreds involved and lay the blame for a spike in traffic incidents on just a change in speed limits. If nothing else perhaps we should first examine how Indiana interstate highways are designed and compare that to the BC roads. Or perhaps we should examine how BC drivers are being trained to drive at relatively high speeds.

    It isn’t the road or the speed limit that causes crashes, it is driver error.

    I’ll also toss in the question of how well or poorly the Coquihalla Hwy is maintained during winter months. I think that anyone who travels that road knows that the quality and speed of clearing can vary dramatically depending on the contractor hired to do the work.

    I am always wary of claims that one magic solution will end car crashes. Instead of trying to slow everyone down to some lowest common denominator our time and money would better spent figuring out how controlled access highways can be built and maintained to best reduce the likelihood of crashes, and how drivers can be trained and skills tested.

    Photo radar has often as not proved to be demonstrably useful at actually reducing accidents and fatalities. It is though really easy, popular with some of the population, and makes buckets of cash. What it doesn’t do is stop drunk drivers, inexperienced or sloppy drivers, people dodging in and out of traffic, or tearing down the shoulder to get around an accident, or the dumptrucks tailgating Toyotas at 100 kmh on the Upper Levels highway. It would be far better to have more actual police vehicles on the road, enforcing a wide range of traffic laws.

    The report actually does talk about the specific conditions of rural BC roads:

    “Travel in rural BC is particular hazardous because of a harsh winter climate, mountainous terrain causing curvilinear alignments, fewer roundabouts (which reduce risk of side impact collisions), and the fact that large regions of the province are remote, with limited access to post-crash trauma care “.

    I’m inclined to think that what this study really tells us is that assuming you can account for all of the other variables it is likely that 120 kmh was too high for these specific sections of roads, especially in winter. It is not the number 120 that is the issue, it is setting and enforcing the right limits for a particular road.

    Finally, the fatality jump may be misleading. we’re talking about tens of deaths each year, not hundreds, and it’s still possible that the 118% jump is an anomaly unrelated to speed. Even the study authors admit that “Our evaluation has several limitations related to data quality and completeness. “

    1. So 120 was too high for this road, especially in winter. Raising the speed limit here was the determining factor.

  3. Typo, should have been:
    “Photo radar has not proved to be demonstrably useful at actually reducing accidents and fatalities. “

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