Is the speed limit going up? Is it safe? Key questions arising from government announcements

May 14, 2019, Kitchener, Ontario

Posted by: Robert Deutschmann, Personal Injury Lawyer

Close Up of Electric Lamp Against Black Background The Ontario Government announced its intention to review the province’s speed limits and it looks like the limit may be heading up. The current 100 kilometre per hour limit on the 400 series of highways was set in the 1970s in response to maximizing fuel economy during the energy crisis.

The transportation minister in Ontario announced plans to review aped limits on provincial highways last week. The minister indicated that some of the roads are designed to safely handle traffic at 120 kilometres per hour at the news conference.

Experts indicate that any road has three speed limits in fact. There is the ‘design’ limit – the one which is the maximum speed the road can handle. There is the ‘operating’ speed – the one that is how fast the traffic is actually moving on the road. Then there is the ‘posted’ speed which is the one on the road sign. The posted speed limit is enforced by police and is meant to represent the speed at which 85% of people are travelling at or below. Anyone who has driven on the province’s highways, particularly the 400 series in southern Ontario, can attest that there are very few vehicles moving at 100 km/h.

The original limit on the 400 series highways was 70 miles per hour (113 km/h) and this review of the speed limit falls in line with the scrapping of 55 miles per hour in Most of the US states on their interstate highways. Currently speed limits in some states like Michigan on many highways is as high as 75 miles per hour or 120 km/h. Minister Jeff Yurek announced that there will be a couple of pilot projects at different speed limits on the highways including speeds up to 120 km/h.

British Columbia did a similar test on selected divided highways in 2013 however the province rolled back the 120 km/h limits after research showed an alarming increase in serious collisions on those routes. The experiment has been described as a ‘disaster’ by many researchers. Mohamed Hussein, a transportation engineering professor at McMaster University in Hamilton has said that “Most research shows that if you are involved within a collision and you are driving more than 120 km/h your chances to survive are almost zero”.

The fact remains however, that the defacto speed limit on the 401 is 120 km/h in the GTA sue largely to lax enforcement of the 100 km/h limit. In Michigan, for example, the highway patrol enforces the limit strictly and traffic flows very close to the posted limits regardless of which stretch of highway one is driving and what the posted limit is on the stretch of road.

Some people point to the German Autobahn on which there is no limit however those highways are very different from ours. They have important design distinctions that include less frequent interchanges and less truck traffic. Some traffic experts are advocating for ‘dynamic’ limits which would see the limit change based on factors like the weather or traffic. The limits could go up or down several times a day on the same stretch of highway.

The expert consensus seems to be clear from the NHTSB to local experts. As speed increases the rates of serious personal injury and death increase in crashes. In any case if the speed limits are increased enforcement of the limit should be consistent.




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Deutschmann Law serves South-Western Ontario with offices in Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, Woodstock, Brantford, Stratford and Ayr. The law practice of Robert Deutschmann focuses almost exclusively in personal injury and disability insurance matters. For more information, please visit or call us toll-free at 1-866-414-4878.

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