Findings from the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure show that vehicle crash rates have gone up on 14 of the 33 sections of provincial highway where speed limits were increased in 2014, while crash rates in the remaining 19 sections were either down or remained unchanged.
But the new data on crashes has not yet spurred the government to pull back on the recent increases, with Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone appearing to focus instead on the remaining 19 sections of highway on which crash rates did not go up over the past two years.
In a statement, the Minister pointed to the section of the Coquihalla highway from Hope to Kamloops, “where the speed limit was increased from 110 km/h to 120 km/h but continues to see the lowest crash rate in the last 10 years.”
In response to the new information, the province plans to invest in new safety features for roads that saw crash increases, such as better signage, wildlife detection systems and improved rumble strips and road markings, along with decreasing the speed limit on two sections in particular – Highway 1 from Hope to Cache Creek and Highway 5A from Princeton to Merritt.
The provincial government upped speed limits on various highways in 2014 as part of its Rural Highway Safety and Speed Review, at the time citing as reasons for the increases to maximum speeds not only public interest – 81 per cent of people in the Lower Mainland supported increases to speed limits – but also helpful investments in infrastructure, driver education and improved vehicle technology.
The Minister emphasized that the report cited a number of issues aside from speed that contributed to vehicle crashes, including weather, traffic, alcohol, driver error, wild animals and distracted driving. “This suggests again that there are many different factors that can lead to crashes and speed is only one of them,” said Minister Stone.
Despite the Minister’s support for current speed limits, the connection between vehicle speed and driver crashes and fatalities has been well documented over the years. In its 2004 report on road traffic and injury prevention, the World Health Organization stated that vehicle speed has “an exponentially detrimental effect on safety,” citing empirical studies which have found that for each increase of one km/h in mean traffic speed there will typically result a three per cent increase in the incidence of injury and a four to five per cent increase in the incidence of fatal crashes. “Speed affects the risk of a crash occurring,” says the report. “The greater the speed, the less time there is to prevent a collision. At the same time, the greater the speed, the more severe the consequences once a crash has occurred.”
In March of this year, BC’s Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall issued a report on road safety which urged the adoption of lower speed limits in municipalities and on treaty lands, pointing to the evidence that the chances of a pedestrian or cyclist surviving an impact with a vehicle are significantly higher at reduced vehicle speeds.