Sign crew installs new speed limit markers on Highway 97C in 2014. Limit for that highway has been returned to 110 km/h, but the main Coquihalla Highway limit remains at 120. (B.C. government)

B.C. VIEWS: Setting speed limits in a post-fact political environment

Media prefer ‘speed kills’ narrative, even when it fails to appear

The B.C. government’s latest adjustment of speed limits on rural highways is a case study in how modern politics and media run over the facts and leave them on the side of the road.

You may have heard that in early November, speed limit increases were rolled back on 14 of the 33 segments of rural B.C. highway where they were increased by 10 km/h in 2014. You probably didn’t hear that 16 other sections were left as is, because the accident rate didn’t go up with increased limits.

In some cases, speed measurement showed the higher speed limit resulted in average travel speed, and accidents, going down. Across the province, exceeding the posted speed limit was determined by police to be an insignificant factor in collisions.

For all segments with increased speed limits, the biggest factor by far in three years of police collision reports is “driver inattentive” at 25 per cent. That’s followed by “road conditions” (15 per cent), “driving too fast for conditions” (13 per cent), “fell asleep” (five per cent) and “wild animal” (four per cent). Exceeding the posted speed limit was tied with impaired driving at two per cent each.

These are the facts that weren’t allowed to get in the way of a juicy political story.

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena mostly stuck to her script, but savoured her days as an opposition critic, attacking then-minister Todd Stone for his allegedly irresponsible decision to increase speed limits. Trevena allowed that it was “shocking” that accidents increased by 17 per year on her home stretch of highway, from Parksville to Campbell River, after not changing at all the first year after the increase.

And sure enough, it was Stone who faced a wall of TV cameras and demands that he explain how he could be so reckless as to increase speed limits.

I’m guilty of feeding this narrative too. It was I who in 2014 revealed that “Hot Rod Todd,” as he was known, once got (gasp) a speeding ticket on the Coquihalla! That’s why the speed limit for the Coquihalla was raised to the unprecedented 120 km/h, so the minister could blast back and forth to his Kamloops home!

The story practically writes itself, but like most coffee shop wisdom, it’s bunk. As it turns out, the Coquihalla speed limit stays at 120. As Stone pointed out, it remains among the safest highways in the province.

One obvious factor in this three-year period is the winter of 2016-17, the coldest on record for Metro Vancouver and large parts of southern B.C. And last winter featured heavy snow.

Harsh winter weather may explain why drivers slowed down on some stretches of road where speed limits had been increased. Anyone with highway driving experience knows that whatever the posted limit, the majority of responsible drivers choose how fast they will go.

Transportation ministry engineers use a measure called “85th percentile speeds,” which they define as “a representation of the speed at which reasonable and prudent drivers choose to travel.”

It’s important to understand this, as the province and its taxpayers wrestle with the soaring costs of accidents and ICBC claims. Calling the corporation’s financial situation a “dumpster fire” over and over again is easy for reporters, and great politics for Attorney General David Eby, but it doesn’t get anyone closer to solutions.

Our highways are safer, vehicles are safer, driver training is more rigorous, and yet costly accidents continue to increase.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Parksville youngsters design problem-solving robot

Lego robotics team gearing up for gold in Victoria competition

Parksville wants consultant to examine feasibility of rec centre

Strong demand from residents for a multi-sport facility

Developers withdraw rezoning application for huge Parksville waterfront plan

IAG to create new draft after processing public feedback

Part Three: 10 questions with a Qualicum Beach historian

Local guide shares stories of town’s foundations

Chilliwack woman wins right to medically assisted death after three-year court battle

Julia Lamb has been the lead plaintiff in a legal battle to ease restrictions on Canada’s assisted dying laws

NDP, Liberals promise more spending, while Tories promise spending cuts

Making life more affordable for Canadians a focus in the 2019 election

UPDATE: Police probe third threat against a Kamloops high school in eight days

Police have not released any further details into what the threat includes

Charges dropped against Mountie involved in shooting death of Surrey man

‘I feel like I’ve lost Hudson all over again,’ says mom

B.C. Interior caribou protection area big enough, minister says

Proposals sparked protest in Kootenays, Williams Lake region

Two B.C. women selected to compete on ABC’s The Bachelor

Mykenna Dorn and Alexis Thind will compete for bachelor Peter Weber’s heart

Vaping-related illness confirmed in Ontario believed to be first in Canada

Middlesex-London Health Unit had no further details about the case — believed to be the first confirmed in Canada

Canadian stars Virtue, Moir say in video they’re ‘stepping away’ from ice dancing

The pair thank fans for their support in an emotional message

Woman held at gunpoint during carjacking in UBC parkade

University RCMP say the vehicle is still missing, and two suspects are at large

Most Read