Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Should the speed limit be reduced?

with 3 comments

In Britain this is now a Big Question since an influential traffic safety group, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (Pacts), has released a report saying that the default speed limit in built-up areas should be reduced from 30mph to 20mph.

The reason the question is being raised is that the number of fatalities is not declining in Britain the way it is in other European countries. “The numbers of deaths resulting from drinking and driving, failure to wear a seat-belt, or driving too fast have shown little sign of falling.” And this is in a country that has lots of speed cameras. Acts is also suggesting that the current design of speed camera be replaced by the average speed cameras I have been advocating here.

It is worth comparing our collision data with the UK – we seem to see a similar trend or “flatlining” – things are not getting any better, at around 400 fatalities and 50,000 collisions a year. (source ICBC)

1996 – 2005

In Britain, one major consideration is the widespread opposition to speed cameras. They are seen to be simply methods of extracting more money from motorists. Now I do not expect law enforcement to be popular but most people seem to think that more of it – in general – woud be a Good Thing. In fact Stephen Harper is relying on this knee jerk response in the throne speech. If there is to be an election he wants it to be on Law and Order – not issues like the needless high budget surplus, the lack of spending on important priorities or our shameful environmental record. But of course that is because the package is directed at criminals – who people think get away lightly with serious crimes and make us feel unsafe. Except of course that crime (unlike traffic deaths) has been declining for a long time mainly due to demographics.

The response to those who object to speed cameras is “Why do you think you have a right to speed?” Observation of speed limits in BC is confined to those occasions when you see a marked police vehicle.

The top five most frequently reported contributing factors in
2005 fatal collisions (as a percentage of total fatal collisions)
were, in order of magnitude:
(1) Speeding (36.7%);
(2) Alcohol (27.1%);
(3) Driver inattentive (24.4%);
(4) Driver error/Confusion (14.8%);
(5) Driving on wrong side of road (12.3%).

We seem to have become desensitized to traffic fatalities – despite the growing practice of erecting road side shrines to collision victims. But if 400 people were killed in a plane crash or a train there would be an outcry, public enquiries and action would be taken. Of course, inappropriate responses are one of the big issues: the risk to children around school zones is not from abduction by a stranger – but being run down by a distracted Mom in a huge truck equipped with roo bars.

I do not see us reducing speed limits. The 30kph limit introduced on Columbia St in New Westminster is very unusual – and very poorly observed. I would settle for an effective 50kph limit on arterials – and much more hard landscaping to calm traffic in neighbourhoods. I would also like to see pedestrian refuges which make both the crossing distances shorter and prevent overtaking at crossings. But I would also like to see speed cameras – and maybe our concern about greenhouse gas emissions can be called in for support – since lower speeds also mean lower fuel consumption.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 17, 2007 at 8:00 am

Posted in Road safety

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3 Responses

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  1. It would be great if the speed limit was changed to reflect the actual average speed, including stops at traffic lights and four-way stops.

    On many parts of my bicycle commute I am passed by cars (sometimes quite closely) and I end up catching up to them 4 blocks later at a four-way stop. Unless they or I turn off at some point I am usually within a block of them for very long stretches. And I am averaging at the very most 30kph on these stretches.

    In my opinion the 50kph speed limit in town doesn’t actually get anyone anywhere any faster than a 30 or 35kph limit would. 50 is just much more dangerous for everyone.


    October 17, 2007 at 12:52 pm

  2. The biggest problem we have in Ontario is the lack of enforcement. The police are sending out a message that we might enforce laws sometimes… go ahead and do what you want on the road. That includes pedestrians. It’s okay, cross on a red light. Don’t expect the police to do anything. Drivers not only drive at high speeds but refuse to stop at stop signs. We pay big bucks for policing and get a very little bang.
    I agree with previous comment about bicycles. I would be afraid to ride a bike on the road.

    Andy Grant

    October 17, 2007 at 2:52 pm

  3. Andy

    Riding a bike is actually fairly safe compared to other activities – and the health benefits of the exercise greatly outweigh the risk of injury. The statistics are somewhat skewed by the activities of a few rogue young males – and this is true of driving too – who actually court damage through risky behaviour.

    Stephen Rees

    October 17, 2007 at 3:00 pm

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