Skip to comments.The case for higher speed limits on Hwy. 401
Posted on 05/05/2002 12:43:23 PM PDT by US admirer
The Case For Higher Speed Limits on Hwy. 401 (Trans-Canada Hwy)
Local News - Gord Thompson may be the only man in Ontario ever charged under the Highway Traffic Act for obeying the letter of the law. The teacher from Campbellford and another motorist caused a four-kilometre traffic jam on Highway 401 seven years ago by driving side by side at the posted 100 km/h speed limit. They were charged with obstructing traffic and had their licences temporarily suspended.
Weeks earlier, Thompson had been ticketed for going 117 km/h on the same road and staged his slow-motion protest after a judge told him he was breaking the law by going even a kilometre over the posted limit.
It still kind of gets my blood going, Thompson said this week. The number on the [speed limit] sign isnt the number youre expected to drive at and no one will tell you what the tolerance actually is. Thompsons situation may be the most ludicrous application of Ontarios speeding laws but it puts into focus what motorists prove with their right feet that 100 km/h is often too slow for the provinces 400-series highways. A recent study by University of Toronto researcher Baher Abdulhai found every single driver exceeding the speed limit on some stretches of highway that he and graduate student Jaime Abraham studied. His study recommended that the speed limit be raised to a more realistic 130 km/h.
That finding mirrors dozens of similar studies done on expressways in North America and Europe. Studies indicate that 85 per cent of motorists drive at speeds between 110 km/h and 130 km/h on the 401. According to most traffic experts, such a widespread variance from the posted speed means the limit should be raised. And a survey of almost 300 motorists in Belleville several years ago found the majority of drivers wanted the speed limit increased by at least 10 km/h.
The provincial government, however, has dismissed the latest study, saying it has no intention of raising speed limits. Our own research suggests that raising the speed limits would in fact lead to an increase in traffic injuries and fatalities, said Transportation Ministry spokesman Anser Ahmed. The response to his study has disappointed Abdulhai. I have not seen any counter-arguments based on fact, he said this week. Its all been, Youre going to kill people, [or] There would be blood all over the roads. He was particularly upset by some media reports on his findings.
What surprised me was the reaction from the public [in TV reports], he said.In one report, they showed a 50-50 split among people about the higher limit, but in some locations measured in the report, 100 per cent of people were driving over the limit. If 100 per cent of the people are violating [the law] when they drive, wheres the 50 per cent that opposes higher limits? The 100 km/h limit was set in the 1970s as a conservation measure during the oil crisis. Before that, the limit was 115 km/h, even though cars had few of the safety features that todays drivers enjoy.
The United States scrapped its gas-saving 55 mph limit several years ago and left it to the states to set speed limits. Most opted for a 65 or even 75 mph (105 to 120 km/h) limit on major highways. Since then, people on both sides of the issue have been producing studies. Critics of higher speed limits point to an increased number of deaths on some highways with higher limits. Supporters say raising speed limits actually makes highways safer. They argue higher speeds encourage motorists to use the road more. With increased traffic, the number of fatalities per 100 million miles driven one of the basic measures of road safety actually falls. Its one of those cases where you use statistics any way you want to, said David Leonhardt of the Canadian Automobile Association, which supported Abdulhais conclusions if combined with a program of increased speed limit enforcement.
Michael Cain, director of research for the B.C. group Safety by Education Not Speed Enforcement (SENSE), said the groups efforts to raise speed limits drew the same fears of carnage on the roads. They said The faster you go, the harder you hit, but that totally ignores the human interaction of driving, he said. The whole argument ignores the fact that if you dont have an accident, you dont get hurt.
Abdulhai himself says higher speeds are not dangerous and that speed differentials cause accidents. A higher speed limit, he argues, will not cause people to drive faster; it merely reflects what they are already doing. Its really basic stuff, Abdulhai said. Its not rocket science.
Jim Baxter, president of the National Motorists Association, a U.S. consumers group that supports higher speed limits, said he was familiar with Abdulhais study. What your professor is saying is set the speed limit at the speed at which traffic is moving, which I think is a reasonable and prudent thing to do, he said. People dont have a death wish. Youre not out to hurt yourself or to drive faster than is safe for the road. Most of the resistance to higher limits comes from police and the insurance companies, which both profit from speeding tickets, he said.
Police like the low limit because it gives them a reason to stop anyone they want, he said. The insurance industry has always supported lower limits. The other knock at the higher limits is that cars use more fuel at higher speeds. Baxter shrugs off that point. Modern vehicles dont have nearly the differential in fuel consumption that they used to, he said. Its an argument that might have held sway in 75 [But] the individual should be allowed to decide if the saving of time is worth it.
Baxter said he is familiar with environmental arguments but that highway policy shouldnt be based on ideology. There are side elements out there who dont like people having the right to go anywhere they want however fast they want to go, he said. There are environmentalists who would like to see us walk everywhere.
Leonhardt of the CAA said a higher limit on the 401 would allow police to concentrate on the very fast and the very slow drivers, who present the most danger in traffic. Those who drive over the limit should receive zero tolerance, he said. And for people who want to drive 80, maybe a 400-series highway is not where they ought to be. Baxter noted that realistic speed limits would be welcomed by motorists in Kingston, for it would dramatically cut down on travel times to Toronto or Ottawa.
Higher speeds are not only safer, but economically beneficial, argued SENSEs Cain. What we need to look at in this issue is where will society benefit? he said. [Higher speed limits] can reduce the number of crashes and provide benefits to the economy. Leeds-Grenville MPP Bob Runciman, who has had a 600-km round-trip commute for 21 years, has publicly supported a higher speed limit on the 401, as did former transportation minister Al Palladini, but the issue has never caught fire at Queens Park. The last push to raise the limit dissolved after a rash of accidents involving wheels flying off heavy trucks.
As for Thompson, he has not had a speeding ticket since he and his companion set out on their legal Sunday drive, but hed love to go back in front of a judge. You know, when we did the protest at 100, we did not overtake one single vehicle, he recalled. If I get a ticket for going 120 on the 401 now, Id go before the judge and say I cant go at 100, another judge told me I cant drive 100 on the 401. Leonhardt said that incongruity needs to be addressed. Thats the predicament that people are in right now, and people shouldnt be in that predicament.
The insurance industry likes lower limits because it means more tickets for a wider variety of people rather than the truly dangerous drivers. More tickets gives the insurance companies more opportunities to jack up rates on people who get charged for doing 60 in a 55 zone.
The other knock at the higher limits is that cars use more fuel at higher speeds. Baxter shrugs off that point. Modern vehicles dont have nearly the differential in fuel consumption that they used to,
Right on target. I remember some of these environmentalist types insisting that cars get 30% worse gas mileage at 70 than they do at 55. My car at the time was rated at 27 mpg highway at 55 mph. I consistently got 30 mpg when going 70-75 on vacations.
By their logic my car would get 39 mpg at 55 mph, so my car must have been an anti-lemon, getting 12 mpg more than the typical model. Of course the reality is that there's very little difference in mileage at 55 mph vs. 70 mph. In fact, in a car with a big engine, 70 mph is likely more efficient.
As for the safety argument, it's laughable. Speed differential kills more than speed does. Making the much safer freeways less driveable with politically set speed limits and putting more traffic on the other roads leads to *more* head on collisions and more deaths (furthermore, most freeway deaths are single-car collisions, much moreso than on "regular" roads).
That doesn't mean that speed limits should be 90 mph. It does mean that most drivers proceed at a safe and reasonable speed given the conditions and speed limits should be set based on what people actually are driving. 62 mph (100 kph) on the 401 is ridiculously low. It should be 115 (71 mph).
I drive I5 (in California) daily, and its 2-lane segments are almost a duplicate of the 401 (the more generous shoulders and escape areas of I5 are the notable differences).
The mix of truck and auto traffic is similar too.
Having done it for three years now, there is no question in my mind that the slower traffic is more responsible for accidents than the occasional nut doing 95 (mph).
The speed nut usually ends up doing himself in.
The slower nut usually takes several to a dozen or more vehicles into his excitement...
LOL. ALL govt. policy is based on ideology. Nice to see the environmentalists called on one of theirs, though.
In some of the western states, where 70 - 75 mph limits are posted,typical speeds are well in excess of the limit.
On the basis of very limited observation, I've tentatively concluded people tend to exceed the speed limit-no matter how high you set it.
The reason people are going 70-75 on the freeway now that you have a 65mph limit, is that the artificial 55mph limit and its excessive fines exerted downward pressure on the overall speed of traffic that has been somewhat relieved by the 65mph speed limit. People are driving closer to the safe design speed of the roadway because they're no longer threatened with half a dozen points on their license and three years of exhorbitant insurance rates for doing so.
If the speed limit were set to 70-75, or even repealed entirely, a variety of traffic engineering studies indicate that the overall speed of traffic would settle in at the safe speed for the road, rather than increasing in 10mph increments over the posted limit.
I don't know about that. The Autobahn in Germany still has many stretches with no speed limit at all. Most people seem to like to drive at around 130 km/h (approx- 78 mph). There's always the BMWs that are driving in excess of 100 mph but for the most part it seems that around 130 km/h is a speed that most people like to drive- myself included.
And no, I wasn't one in the congestion that day. If I were, I may not be defending him now. :-)
On the flip side, I was intentionally run off the road by some moron in a Kenworth. he chased me for about 5 miles at sapeeds in excess of 85mph. (BTW, my wife and three kids were in the car and visible as well) At one point, he changed lanes, so I stayed where I was and backed off. Moron jumped into my lane and sent me off into the rocks on the shoulder. I'm a real good driver, but not that good. As I was sliding down the freeway sideways at 80, obviously the hand of the Lord was on my wheel. I had a long talk with his boss the next day. If you care, it was Gerth Transport out of Kitchener. Sorry about the long post, I just get a little excited when someone tries to kill my family.
If I wanted this jackass to point anything out to me I'd ask him.