Political Interference in Setting Speed Limits Shouldn’t Happen

From guest writer Ian Tootill, who is co-founder of the grassroots British Columbia motorists advocacy group SENSE BC (or Safety by Education and Not Speed Enforcement). SENSE BC and the NMA are kindred spirits, with SENSE advocating for sensible driving standards for more than 23 years and the NMA for over 36. The issues facing drivers in Canada and the United States are not so different as Ian’s excellent op-ed illustrates.

On November 21, 2018, this opinion piece first appeared in the Vancouver Sun and with permission from both the editor and the author, the NMA presents it here in full.

This post first appeared for the NMA as E-Newsletter #518 in December 2018. 

BC’s Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena set back BC motorists when she announced speed limit roll backs on nearly half of the 33 highway segments where speed limits were raised in 2014. Motorists, who’ve been traveling at safe and legal speeds, following the 2014 Rural Highway Safety and Speed Review, will now encounter more police enforcement for politically set speed limits. This means more wasted police resources devoted against minor offense violators who aren’t the root problem on affected highways, increased travel costs, and frustrated (poorer) motorists.

It’s no secret the NDP (New Democratic Party) needs money to shore up ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia), and drivers will enter the holiday season stuffing provincial treasury stockings for the wrong reasons.

Recently ICBC announced rate increases and dramatic increases to fines and penalty point premiums. Likely it’s no coincidence those announcements followed a recent well promoted report, which implied speed limit changes had resulted in “vastly” more crashes/fatals.

The report’s authors are part of the same crowd pushing Photo Radar 2.0 (Automated Traffic Enforcement) which includes a vocal BC group of publicly funded academic / health professional cycling advocates. They are cheerleaders for the Vision Zero movement whose modus operandi is to frustrate and expense drivers into oblivion. When highway speed limits are reviewed and properly set by engineers, without their interference, they call it an “experiment”. They gained publicity in October with little critical examination of their Report claims about road carnage.

We’ve long advocated frequent reviews of highway speed limits and setting using principles and methodology recommended by Transportation Engineers. We’ve also said politicians and special interests should have less influence on the process.

Contrary to the Vision Zeronista’s malicious and self- serving spin, there is no indictment of the actions of the previous Minister Todd Stone who relied on engineers to do their jobs in 2014.

MOTI (Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure) staff did an excellent job of the July 2014 Rural Highway Safety and Speed Review, and again with the 2018 Review, gathering reliable data and establishing baselines for future analysis and reviews.

However, 2018 Review data contradicts both Minister Trevena’s conclusions and her decree which suggests political meddling occurred.

Facts noticed by few in media, include that 16 – just above half – of the affected segments had no reduction in safety and instead saw a 14% decrease in collisions.

Three of the segments, where Trevena rolled back speed limits, saw either the same or reduced serious collision rates. Noteworthy is that two of the 33 segments already had a rollback to pre-2014 speed limits (from the earlier review), yet they saw the largest increase in collisions at 72.9%.

While it is true that 15 of 33 affected highway segments showed a reduction in safety, they were modest in actual terms. However, many of those had no correlation with an increase in natural vehicle speeds (85th percentile). Of those 15 segments, the flow of traffic speeds either remained the same or dropped in 7 segments.

Speeding over the limit was clearly a minor player as a contributing factor.

Regardless, the Minister’s position was that any roadway with an increase in crashes for any reason, no matter how small, was a chance to cut the speed limit by 10 km/h across the board. Some of the road segments had ONE bad year; that does not represent a trend.

To summarize, approximately half of the affected highway segments saw a 14% decrease in collisions. And, while the other half did see an increase in collisions, only half of those segments saw an increase in travel speeds and some even saw a reduction in travel speeds.

This 2018 Review was NOT an indictment of principled engineering decisions. On the contrary it validates the position that social/special interest, professional lobbyists and politicians should butt out and leave speed limit setting to the professionals who are trained in the field of engineering.

Ian Tootill is Co-Founder of grass roots BC Motorists advocacy group SENSE BC.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this newsletter are those of the author.

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