Ferrabee Tunnel

Ferrabee Tunnel

B.C. lets drivers set speed limits

If raising speed limits on rural highways is a mistake, accident statistics will soon tell the tale

VICTORIA – “Fast is the new slow,” declared one Toronto newspaper’s front page when the B.C. government announced it is increasing speed limits around the province.

The headline picked up on Transportation Minister Todd Stone’s justification for raising limits on 35 stretches of rural B.C. highway. Stone referred to traffic studies that show portions of the highway system where the vast majority of drivers already travel at the new speeds.

Stone emphasized that accident risk is not so much a function of speed, but of differences in speed between vehicles. That’s why the signs going up this summer will include a new warning for left lane hogs: “Keep Right – Let Others Pass.”

For the first time, there is a 120 km/h limit on three segments of rural divided highway, parts of the Coquihalla, the Okanagan Connector and a stretch between Parksville and Campbell River on Vancouver Island.

Having regularly driven up and down the B.C. Interior highway system for the past 30 years, I can confirm that particularly once you get “beyond Hope,” drivers do set the speed limit. In good conditions, it’s generally about 10 km over the posted maximum, particularly in the long spaces between communities where resources to do regular speed enforcement simply don’t exist.

Improvements in the road system, and the modern vehicles that drive it, have been enormous.

My last trip was in June, up the Fraser Canyon and on through the Cariboo to Prince George. The canyon offers some of the harshest road-building conditions in Canada, but even portions of that cliff-hanging, rock-and-tunnel road are getting increases from 90 to 100 km/h.

There are two common assumptions about this move. One is that increasing the speed limit means people will automatically drive faster. The other is that higher speeds mean more accidents, or at least more severe accidents.

The government downplayed opposition to this change, which Stone signalled last fall when he launched the public consultation.

Police agencies don’t like it. ICBC officials are skeptical to say the least. ICBC’s latest rate increase was attributed mostly to cost pressure from higher injury payouts, and it will be tracking the sections of higher speed limit to see if the number of severe accidents goes up.

Speed wasn’t singled out when interim ICBC boss Mark Blucher made the case for an increase of nearly 5% on basic insurance last fall. One reason why claims for bodily injury, pain and suffering, future care and loss of earnings are going up is that more people are hiring lawyers.

Another reason is distraction, not just from mobile devices but also more pedestrians and cyclists in urban areas.

Are drivers getting worse? A recent report out of Saskatchewan suggests they are.

In 2013, only 48% of new drivers in Saskatchewan passed their road test. The test hasn’t changed much in the past decade, and there are more immigrants who aren’t accustomed to highway driving, North America style.

But a veteran driving instructor calls today’s new drivers “the weakest generation I’ve ever taught,” after they spent their formative passenger years watching TV or playing with game machines and other screens while on the road.

“The awareness level isn’t where it was when I started 15 years ago,” Margot Podiluk told the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. “Today’s generation, they’re so connected to electronic devices they don’t look out of car windows.”

If raising speed limits is a mistake, accident statistics will soon tell the tale. My expectation is that on rural highways, speed limits are just catching up to the traffic.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

White Rock council say closure of the city’s pier, promenade and parking lots are not under consideration at this time, but have approved other COVID-19 options for the waterfront including stepped-up RCMP patrols that are already part of detachment planning. (Aaron Hinks photo)
White Rock pier, promenade, parking lot closures off the table – for now

Council members warn decision subject to future provincial health orders

It remains to be seen how tourism dollars announced this week will help in White Rock. (Sterling Cunningham file photo)
White Rock officials question if tourism relief will come soon enough

For business, budget ‘feels more like a placeholder,’ says chamber head

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
South Surrey, White Rock MLAs call Tuesday’s provincial budget ‘disappointing’

MLAs Stephanie Cadieux and Trevor Halford say residents are getting less for more

Memorial for Travis Selje on 64th Avenue in Cloverdale, west of 176th Street. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
Epilepsy-defence driver found not guilty in crash that killed Surrey teen Travis Selje

Accused testified she has no recollection of the crash and believes she had an epileptic seizure that caused the collision

(File photo)
Three young girls followed while walking home from school, Surrey police say

RCMP say suspect took off after girls went into nearby store for help

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Firefighters carry equipment from the scene of Monday’s Willoughby fire. The April 19, 2021 blaze turned the Alexander Square development at the corner of 208th Street and 80th Avenue to rubble. (Rob Wilton/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley Fire: The aftermath of the inferno

The scene remains active as investigators work to determine a cause

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Most Read