Experts Predict Fatal Crashes Will Increase by 21% if Province Raises Highway Speeds

November 21, 2019, Kitchener, Ontario

Posted by: Robert Deutschmann, Personal Injury Lawyer

Province has moved ahead with an increase of the speed limit on a section of the 402 highway in Ontario. In light of this fact and what we know about road safety, accident death rates and injuries, Safety experts are coming out against the move to increase speeds on the 400 series. The Toronto Star has reported the following news:

Fatal crashes will rise by 21% if province proceeds with highway speed limit increase: experts

Four road safety experts urge politicians to consider the possibly deadly consequences of the policy.

NEWS Nov 22, 2019 by Ted Fraser Toronto Star

Fatal car crashes would likely rise by around 20 per cent on 400-series highways if the provincial government moved forward with its plan to raise speed limits from 100 kilometres per hour to 110 kilometres per hour.

This is what four road safety experts are telling politicians in a new "evidence-based" opinion article. They urge politicians to consider the possibly deadly consequences of the policy.

The authors, Geni Bahar, Ezra Hauer, Bhagwant Persaud, and Alison Smiley, write that the average highway driver does not travel at the maximum speed limit. Given this, the authors write that, if the speed is raised by 10 kilometres per hour, the average travelling speed would only increase by three to four kilometres per hour. Although this may seem like a small increase, they predict it will lead to 21 per cent more fatal crashes and 13 per cent more crashes causing injury.

"What may seem to be a moderate increase in mean operating speed is likely to translate into a sizable increase in fatalities and injuries," the authors write. "These are the facts, and this is what we should expect."

"It's a small increase, but the effect on the energy of the collision is exponential," said Smiley.

She explained that the increased kinetic energy, the energy an object has when it's in motion, increases at higher speeds.

This "means that the accident is more severe and what was an injury becomes a fatality."

The six-page article comes after the Ontario government gave the green light to a pilot project in September which saw three stretches of highway, covering more than 200 kilometres collectively, increase their speed limit from 100 kilometres per hour to 110 kilometres per hour.

Brian Patterson, president and CEO of the Ontario Safety League, says that, while he doesn't believe a universal increase across the province is practical, he wants to wait and see how the test locations fare.

"As you probably know, there's people who can't believe we're not even going higher than 110 kilometres per hour," says Patterson. "I've driven on the Autobahn and other unrestricted roadways, and the driver discipline in those areas is significantly better than I see in the GTA."

Smiley says that the effects of increasing highway speed limits may be felt off the highway as well. "When people get used to higher speeds elsewhere, they bring that with them (to other roads.)"

In their paper, the four authors refer to British Columbia's experience in raising speed limits and note that, when limits were raised by 10 kilometres per hour on 1,300 kilometres of rural provincial highways there, severe crashes increased by 11.1 per cent.

In the short term, they predict that, "people will save time and trucks will be more productive," but fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions will rise, seniors may more reluctant to drive on the affected routes, and "crashes will be more severe and injuries and fatalities more numerous."

The authors write that "automated speed enforcement," could limit the number of highway crashes, but that, in this case, the province would have to commit to a comprehensive photo radar system or to "a massive and sustained increase in the police force devoted to speed enforcement."

Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said previously that the OPP "will continue to do our job and work with the ministry … to ensure drivers understand their responsibilities. If you are travelling at higher speeds … you need to have more focus, more attention."

"I think it would be nice if we had politicians who were champions of road safety," Smiley said.

Joshua Henry, in media relations for the Ministry of Transportation, wrote, "safety on our roads is our number one priority," in an email to the Star.

"Over the course of the pilot, the province will monitor changes in average speed, traffic volumes and other factors such as collision trends in the pilot areas and similar highway sections to determine the effects of bringing posted limits in line with other jurisdictions and how people currently drive," he continued.

"Before any decisions are made about raising speed limits permanently, we will monitor the effectiveness of the pilot and consider all safety concerns and suggestions raised by stakeholders, our enforcement partners, and members of the public."

With files from Margaryta Ignatenko

Ted Fraser is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star's radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter at @ted_fraser.

Ted Fraser is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter at @ted_fraser.



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