Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘speed limits

BC Highway Speed Limits Review

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Canadian speed limit sign

“A Canadian speed limit sign in British Columbia, taken on the 99 freeway just east of Ladner.” photo by David Herrera on flickr : creative commons license

I first saw something about this on twitter this morning. A journalist wanted me to comment (on tv, this evening) but we can’t make the timing work, though our telephone call did get my mind working. Then – also on Twitter – this page popped up which tells us more about what is intended. The Minister this morning was saying that it is only the limits that are going to be reviewed not enforcement. Which is a pity, in my view. And apparently it is not just about raising limits on newer rural highways

This review isn’t focused on increasing speed limits, rather making sure we have the right speed limits.

So in some cases speed limits might be reduced. Yeah, right.

There is a real problem with speed limits in BC, and that is not the level that they are set at The problem is that too many drivers believe that the speed limit does not apply to them. They have a car which is capable of much higher speeds, and, like all drivers, they know that they are of above average ability. Speed limits, according to this mind set, are merely suggestions for the elderly and those driving older, cheaper models. An even greater proportion of drivers view speed limits as the speed at which everybody ought to drive at, no matter what the conditions. Anyone driving slower than the posted speed is simply trying to get in everyone else’s way and needs to be taught a lesson. So tailgating, honking, light flashing and alarming manoeuvres  are mandated.

Ever since Gordon Campbell secured his personal popularity by abolishing photo radar, the respect for speed limits has diminished. I have written about that here quite often. I have also pointed to the simple facts of physics that when collisions do occur, severities increase with speed. What is a fender bender at 30 km/hr is fatal at 130.  If speed limits are widely ignored – and my experience suggests that is the case, and you can repeat that experimentally by observing the speed limit on any rural highway and count those who overtake you – then it probably does not make a great deal of difference what the posted speed is. The people who drive fast will continue to drive at whatever speed they feel like, because they do not have any need to consider the consequences.

We have, thanks to pressure from a very powerful lobby group (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), reduced our tolerance for drinking and driving. Enforcement has been increased, to the point of actually infringing a number of important legal principles like due process, and stop without cause. Presumption of innocence has long been dead. Attitudes have shifted, and people worry when they drink and drive: not that they might cause a death or severe injury to themselves or others, but that they will be apprehended and have to pay a penalty. And that has affected enough people that places that serve alcohol have noticed an impact on their businesses. It was not enough, unfortunately, to ensure that Gordon Campbell was driven from office when found guilty of drunk driving in Hawaii.

I believe that caving to the loud protests against photo radar has had an equal and opposite effect. Firstly, when there was photo radar, the police announced a margin of tolerance. Ever since there has been a widespread popular belief, that a speed limit sign can have 10% added to it before running the risk of penalty. Not that that was the tolerance level on photo radar, and not that that is now significant. But secondly, the very idea that speed limits need to be enforced is now regarded as some quaint obsession. The police – runs this popular belief – would be better employed tracking down thieves or hooligans, not otherwise Good People who happen not to have noticed either their speedometer or the road side sign. Or that the sign was posted by people more concerned with political correctness than “real” road safety.

Raising speed limits will certainly appeal to a significant sector of the population. But I think those people are more than likely BC Liberal voters already. I suppose there are some Conservatives – and Libertarians – that might be won over. But the rural, car/truck driving longer distance types are already on side. This move will not do anything to win over those who have other concerns, but it does appeal to the BC Liberal base.

The other thing that needs to be noted is that no one is talking about fuel consumption. Higher speeds increase it, which means that emissions increase too: specifically greenhouse gas emissions. We are boiling the planet, and must reduce our emissions – and should have started doing that twenty years ago or more. The science of the impact of human activity on climate change is not in doubt. The need to reduce fossil fuel use is not negotiable. But that is not part of this review. Nowhere is it even mentioned. The only time I can recall that speed limits were generally reduced was the first oil shock. It had nothing to do with road safety – though that was its immediate effect. Every road in the US that had previously not had a posted limit, was now reduced to 55mph. That was designed with one end in view: reduce gasoline consumption. It did, but not by very much apparently, and the need to do that has not gone away. It is now even more important than it was then. But I do not expect that to be of much concern to this government, based on their current obsessions.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 4, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Time to bring back photo radar?

with 16 comments

I was on CKNW’s Bill Good show this morning. It was all remarkably positive. Everyone accepted that speed limits are widely ignored, though there was a range of opinion on what could (or should) be done about it. Bill is on record as an opponent of the previous method used for photo radar – the green vans, parked sometimes in places were they were less than prominent, and where revenue collection was going to be better, even if safety was not really an issue. Most people connected the speed and safety issue – so that message seems to have got across. What is needed now is some better understanding of what can be done.

The first point I want to make is the lack of relevant, recent data. Go to the  Traffic Collision Statistics page of the ICBC web site and you will see a series of reports – but none more recent than 2007. Obviously ICBC has statistics more recent than that: for instance this CBC story today looks at the effectiveness (or otherwise) of the the new laws on cell phone use while driving. “Numbers from ICBC show fatal crashes involving distracted driving dropped by about 20 per cent in 2011” – but where are those numbers? I can’t find them. Anymore than I can find any data that looks specifically at this region, rather than the province as a whole. We cannot have a sensible discussion about any issue when the agency responsible keeps all the recent data hidden away, and only produces pr messages devoid of real information. Is speeding increasing? Have the rates stayed the same in recent years as driving declined?

There does not seem to be the same sort of push back against red light cameras as there was against photo radar. Yet the role of “ignoring a traffic control device” in collisions is less than a third of speed.

We also know that police presence does affect compliance. The trouble is that there cannot be a marked police car at every hot spot every time – nor is it always safe to have police officers trying to pull over speeders. As Bill pointed out, there are real problems policing bridges and places like the Stanley Park causeway. That is why I am an advocate of average speed cameras. These use the same technology as traffic surveys – and toll collection – number plate recognition and matching. Cameras are already mounted on the overhead gantries – so the process of determining who gets across the bridge far too quickly is pretty easy to implement. And there can be prominent signs informing drivers that their speed is being measured.

The other issue that got identified is driving too fast for conditions. That is something where “posted speed” is not relevant. If the road is slippery, or visibility is reduced, posted speed is not safe  – and is already illegal. “Driving too fast for conditions” can get you a ticket. There are some places where the speed limit varies by conditions  and such a system would certainly be worth considering for our freeways and bridges.

UPDATES

1. But none of this would have helped on the Port Mann Bridge last week (which is what prompted the discussion in the first place).

2. “Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair wants to take another look at photo radar cameras as a way to trim enforcement costs in an era of frozen police budgets.” CBC

Written by Stephen Rees

January 7, 2013 at 10:05 am

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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