Stephen Rees's blog

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

B.C. drinking-driving deaths cut in half

with 10 comments

The CBC reports today:  “Deaths from impaired driving in B.C. have been cut in half since new drinking-driving regulations took effect last fall”
This is very good news indeed. The coverage of the new regulations at the time they were brought in, and subsequently, seem to be negative. There was a lot of uncertainty about how much you could drink safely – so most people, it was suggested, stopped going out and restaurants were hit hard. There was, it was conceded, the impact of the HST might also have had something to do with that. The campaigners at Mothers Against Drunk Driving have shown how effective a pressure group can be – and ought to be pleased with these results.

On the same day George Monbiot deals with the related UK story of photo-radar – or “speed cameras” as they are called there.

The experiment is over and the results are in. In April, Thames Valley police switched Oxfordshire’s speed cameras back on. They had been off for eight months, as a result of the government’s decision to cut the road safety grant. Then the police began assessing the damage. In the 31 days before the cameras were switched off (July 2010), the machines caught 2,286 speeding motorists. In the 30 days after they were switched back on, they caught 5,917.

In the eight months without cameras, there were 18 deaths on the roads in Oxfordshire, compared with 12 in the same period in the previous year. This was the first time in four years that the number of deaths on the county’s roads had risen. Serious injuries rose from 160 to 179.

When Gordon Campbell was first elected he cancelled the highly unpopular photo radar program here. That was a bit different to the UK system which uses fixed cameras: in BC there were vans parked at the side of the road, and while in theory they could go anywhere in practice they showed up at sites which – according to the critics – produced the most revenue. Those opposed to photo radar here and there have always concentrated on the “cash grab” argument. Which, as Monbiot points out, has been consistently disproved – but the facts that don’t suit the opponents

 journalists and others have promulgated a powerful and dangerous myth: that speed cameras are useless, and exist only to tax the public.

We now have a new premier who has promised change. I would like to suggest that rather than attacking ICBC (which has been providing good value car insurance, and profits, and has pioneered road safety features like modern roundabouts) she turn her attention to speeding and the toll that has on road users. For speed and collision severity are not just strongly correlated, we also understand the physics of collisions. The greater the speed, the greater the energy that has to be absorbed in a  collision, and the greater the damage to people who are not inside steel cages.

On drinking and  driving “… there are 23 people in British Columbia that are alive today because of the new policies and new penalties,” Penner said in Victoria late Thursday.” I wonder what the story would be if the same attention were paid to excess speed. I think that speeding is an offence that occurs far more often than drink driving – because nearly everybody seems to do it most of the time. And nearly all of it goes undetected, simply because we do not have anything like the resources to deal with it. I find the method of enforcement of our drink driving law oppressive: everyone passing a road check gets stopped and questioned. There is no presumption of innocence and now much less “due process” but we seem to have accepted that the saving of lives justifies this intrusion on our right to go about our business without interference until suspicion falls on us. Unlike speeding, there is no lobby that actually suggests that drink driving should be encouraged – though there are plenty of people who have – they say – taken an economic hit due to stricter laws and tighter enforcement. But most drivers believe that they are better than average, and that the design speed of roads (and, of course cars) is much higher than the posted speed. Indeed, on the Sea to Sky Highway – and the Patullo Bridge, come to that – it was not that the road was inherently dangerous, but that drivers refused to obey the posted speed limit no matter what the conditions.

My suspicion is that if we used the current red light cameras to photograph speeders as well – something they can easily do – we would see a significant change in behaviour. Most obvious the current belief that “green means go, yellow means go faster”. Fixed cameras at the highest collision sites would be the next step – and average speed cameras on sections of road that have no intersections – bridges would be my first choice. The Oak Street bridge has a posted speed of 60 km/hr. Most drivers treat it as part of the freeway (it isn’t) and excess speed across it is common. Indeed, once released from the line up prior to 70th and Oak, the green light southbound there seems to be seen as a starting gun. Average speed cameras do not use radar: we use similar equipment here all the time to measure flows through intersections by comparing license plates on vehicles entering and leaving an intersection. The same technology using two cameras at a known distance apart and synchronized to the same time produces incontrovertible evidence that the vehicle covered it at excessive speed. The only argument, of course, is who was driving it at the time.

The latest data from ICBC is 2007 “The number and rate of deaths in speed-related collisions has fluctuated over the RSV 2010 period with no clear trend in more recent years. However, the increasing trend observed from 1999 to 2002 has not continued.” I cannot help but feel that trend might have had something to do with the ending of photo radar.

My reading of that is that 160 people died in collisions “involving speed” . In that same year alcohol was the cause of 120 deaths. It seems to me that there is a greater case for effective speed enforcement on this statistic alone. Although maybe I should talk to Vicky Gabereau about why the statistics page at the ICBC website seems to be so far out of date.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Posted in Road safety

Tagged with ,

10 Responses

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  1. And yet, almost every municipality in BC requires, by law, bars and any place serving liquor, to provide parking! Look at any zoning bylaw, and there it is, a requirement for a parking space for every two, three, or, if they’re ‘progressive’, four or five seats.

    Obviously more goes into drinking and driving than just parking, but if BC was really serious about curtailing this practice, they would amend the Local Government Act to strip municipalities of the power to demand that bars provide parking.

    I brought this up with MADD a few months ago, and they didn’t seem to think that it was a problem.

    Note that this position isn’t ‘bars shouldn’t be able to provide parking’, but merely that municipalities shouldn’t force them to do so.

    Interesting read and interesting times at ICBC…


    May 20, 2011 at 2:41 pm

  2. I guess we can establish better correlation between drunk driving and accident than speeding and accident.

    going from 0.8 to 0.5g/l is something France has did 20 years ago or so…and now there is some talk to lower the limit at 0.2g/l. I think the laxism of BC law almost criminal in that instance in comparison.

    BTW, RCMP is pretty active in both instance, speed and drunk driving, on the Sea to Sky Highway north of Squamish…In this winter, every time I have driven to whistler I have witnessed Speed control, and in some occurrence drunk driving control…I guess the government need to come up with good statistic to justify the $1 billion spending on the sea to sky hwy…


    May 20, 2011 at 7:21 pm

  3. I suspect all deaths involved speed. If the vehicles were not moving, there would have been no collision. Regarding collisions with pedestrians, excessive is over 30km/h as fatalities rise dramatically when motor vehicle speeds are over 30km/h.


    May 20, 2011 at 11:37 pm

  4. “Speed” in this context is clearly “over the posted speed”.

    I do not know what definition is used in the ICBC statistics, and in my experience the police analysis of the causes of accidents is not exactly scientific. In any event posted speed is not always a safe speed: it is the maximum permitted under perfect conditions. A driver who is involved in a collision on a wet or icy road my be found to have been driving at a speed inappropriate to conditions even when driving below the posted speed limit.

    I am also not discussing here the need for lower speed limits to reduce severity of injury to pedestrians. And this identity therefore gets added to the list of posters who get moderated every time before their comments appear. Sorry Richard, but you do really seem to want to bend the rules on off topic comments.

    Stephen Rees

    May 21, 2011 at 1:16 pm

  5. There would certainly be no need to have a .02 blood alcohol limit, as there is very little difference between .00 and .02 in terms of driving ability. You can look it up. Even .05 is not really necessary: all the drunk drivers that kill people have levels like .18, .21, etc. We need to be focusing on those people.

    In terms of speed cameras, I have always thought that BC has artificially low speed limits compared with similar stretches of road elsewhere. For example, I-5 in Washington is 70 mph (110 km/h), yet 99 is 100 km/h. Same kind of road. People exceed 60 km/h on the Oak Street bridge because the 60 km/h is artificially low. Wide suburban streets in the Vancouver area are often 50 km/h when similar streets elsewhere would be 40 mp/h (70 km/h).

    When so many people ignore a law, we should consider the appropriateness of a law before we spend more money enforcing it. More reasonable speed limits should be set before anyone brings back speed cameras.


    May 23, 2011 at 8:59 am

  6. Stephen,

    Hello again and well done for maintaining this blog. The province should pat itself on the back for the new tough drinking driving legislation. They have really done something very positive but we still should be more concerned about the number of people, albeit fewer in number, who are still being killed on our roadways each year. We just began a 2 month speed/ aggressive driving campaign on the Malahat (Trans-Canada Highway into Victoria). On the first day two people got picked up doing 150 or so in an 80 zone. No wonder that motorists feel uncomfortable on this stretch of road when they know that there are people doing over 90 miles an hour coming up behind them.

    I share your views on speed cameras and have seen them work well in Australia where very few people speed. I don’t understand our reluctance to implement them. No one’s rights to privacy should trump public safety. Who out there does not think that someone driving 150 or 160 km/h should at least be noted, photographed or identified when there is no police officer there on the spot to challenge them? Why are we so concerned with protecting our rights to be irresponsible idiots when we so choose? Stupid and irresponsible are choices – and very poor ones at that. If the new excessive speeding penelties do not slow down the worst offenders then I believe the province will have no choice but to implement speed cameras. I’d suggest the Sea to Sky, Coquihalla and the Malahat as perfect test sites right now to ‘evaluate’ speed camera technology, just in case we need to implement them later on.

    Chris Foord

    July 12, 2011 at 2:10 pm

  7. I do not think that privacy was the main complaint about speed cameras. It was framed as “a tax grab” as though there were no safety gains at all, just an unjustified imposition on those who wanted to exceed the speed limit who felt that they, being better than average drivers, and driving really terrific cars, could do so in complete safety. I was disgusted that Gordon Campbell decided to give way to such idiocy.

    Stephen Rees

    July 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm

  8. I just want to know if they are using the same stats as MADD has been using for years ? In this day and age you can come up with stats to back anything you want. The problem is NONE of them are accurate. Just used to persecute people. I totally agree with monitoring drunk drivers over .08 but this harasing of people that stop for a few beer after work stinks of Special interest groups that think we should all live like they do. What next an attack on all religions that don’t suit them. A police state we are soon to become so I think that laws are laws so things that I overlooked in the past are no more. Talk on your cel phone I will turn you in . Is your car fit for the road cause if not I will be making that call. It seems that a large group feel that we should all believe in what they do so if we are to live by the letter of the law then so be it. We need to abide by all the laws of Canada not just the ones that some of you want enforced.


    October 6, 2011 at 1:39 pm

  9. One of the clear issues that I have seen here in Vancouver is the inability to drive at all. Daily I encounter drivers that can’t keep a vehicle in between the white lines . We complain about people speeding and driving after drinking but do we do anything about the lack of training that these drivers are getting. When you are driving at 50km and ten feet before and intersection a person pulls out doing 2-3 km in front of you who’s fault is that ? At a crosswalk I stopped for a lady pushing a carriage but the Lexus behind me just pulled to the right lane and kept going. Only my horn to the lady stopped her baby from getting killed. This crosswalk also has the flashing lights above it. Vancouver is the scariest place in Canada to drive but yet we do nothing. Guess there is just no Money in it.


    October 6, 2011 at 3:13 pm

  10. I appreciate Terry’s comments. As a construction working, I know the value of specific training for dangerous situaitons. I really don’t believe that ICBC cares about anybody (just money). If ICBC cared at all, it would make sure that you have proper training before you have a license… It is far too convenient to charge people for their mistakes when you make the money, and other people suffer the consequences.


    February 1, 2013 at 12:47 am

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