Fatal crashes doubled in areas where speed limits raised: UBC study
In the years since the province raised speed limits on some sections of highway, the number of fatal crashes in those areas has doubled.
Speed limits were hiked by just 10 per cent back in 2014, but overall crashes have since increased by 20 per cent and deaths have shot up by more than 100 per cent.
The staggering figures are the product of research by experts in the University of British Columbia’s faculties of medicine and applied science, who analyzed years of data before presenting their findings to the government.
“It really doesn’t matter what speed you’re driving at, it just means at higher speeds you’ve got less time to react if you’ve made a mistake or a deer is in front of you or a wheel falls off,” the associate professor of sustainable transport safety said.
“And the energy of the impact is greater, so the severity of the crash is greater at a higher speed.”
B.C. not prepared for autobahn-like system
Some of the issues with increased speed limits include that B.C.’s highway system wasn’t necessarily built for travel at the new speeds, and its drivers haven’t been trained for them.
“It’s the way we’ve designed our highways – very curvy lanes, we’ve got generally sharper curves than you’ll see on an autobahn, we’ve got some very steep grades,” he explained.
“You’ve got facilities that are designed for a certain speed limit and a certain demographic, cultural background, education level of drivers.”
Terrain is less of an issue, he pointed out, as Germany has mountains too, but in B.C., no one is required to take lessons in high-speed, proactive and safe driving.
Experts’ recommendation: ‘Let’s just reset’
Speed limit increases were rolled out on 33 sections of highway across the province partially due to complaints from the public.
Faster drivers coming up behind those obeying the limits was presenting a safety risk, Lovegrove said. By raising the limit, the province hoped to shrink the gap between speeds travelled by law-abiders and those who prefer a faster commute.
Detailed engineering assessments were conducted before the increases were made, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said.
In a statement, the ministry said its engineers spent six months in 2016 looking at data from the first year of new limits. As a result, they took actions including improving road markings and signs, adding rumble strips and rolling back increases in two sections. Their data at the time showed 19 of the 33 segments showed either a reduction or no change in crash rates, the ministry said.
But were roads actually any safer with higher speeds?
Lovegrove said researchers looked at the numbers as they came in, and advised the ministry of which sections of highway needed further attention, but then they screened the data for those confounding factors.
They analyzed the numbers, adjusting the results to account for the 20 per cent increase in traffic seen on most B.C. roads in recent years, as well as environmental factors such as major storms. In the end, it appeared the increased speed limits had a greater impact than they’d expected.
“Clearly this experiment, this solution, needs to be refined. It hasn’t worked, it hasn’t achieved the objective (the government) set out to achieve,” Lovegrove said.
“Let’s just reset. Let’s get them back down to 110 and the other speed limits, the lower speed limits.”
The UBC study was made public, and a copy was also sent to B.C.’s minister of transportation and infrastructure, Claire Trevena.
“The numbers are startling. I think it really makes everybody aware of the safety on the highways,” she said after reviewing the research.
Her staff are also looking at data incurred over a three-year period to see if there has been an increase in accidents on any particular segments of highway.
“We’re looking at how we can use variable speed limits, and whether those speed limits are appropriate for each section of the road.”
She said it will be a couple of weeks before the analysis has been finalized. Upon reviewing the longer-term data, the ministry will consider all options, including potential speed reductions, if necessary.
The premier was also asked about the report.
“The increase in fatalities in areas where speed limits were increased shocked me, quite frankly, and we’re going to take a good hard look at this,” John Horgan said.
The engineers that examined the highways two years ago will now go back to the drawing table, Lovegrove said, tasked with finding new solutions to keep B.C.’s highway network safe.
“Just as simple as that. Engineers, by profession, we are always applying knowledge, and new knowledge in this case, to improve conditions, and the safety of the public is paramount,” he said.
“I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but I do hope it will be less than a month.”