VICTORIA, B.C. – B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced it will lower speed limits on 15 sections of highways that have shown an uptick in speed-related collisions.
A pair of studies – one by the provincial government and another from the University of British Columbia (UBC) – revealed that since speed limits were increased by 10 km/hr. on 33 sections and 1,300 km of rural highway, collisions have increased, spurring the government to roll back speeds to their pre-2014 limits.
“We know people want to get where they’re going quickly. Our job is to help make sure they also get there safely,” said Claire Trevena, minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. “Since the former government raised speed limits in 2014, serious crashes have been on the rise. By rolling back speed limits slightly, our goal is to reduce accidents, keep roads open and protect the lives of British Columbians.”
A study conducted by UBC professors and engineers titled Road Safety Impact of Increased Rural Highway Speed Limits in B.C., concluded that the number of fatal collisions rose 118% on roads with higher speed limits. Those same roads also had a 43% increase in total auto-insurance claims and a 30% rise in auto-insurance claims for injuries due to collisions.
“On those 33 segments that had their speed limits changed, before, there were about 15 fatal crashes per year,” said Dr. Gordon Lovegrove, one of the researchers who worked on the UBC study. “For the three years of data we collected after the speed limits were raised, there were another 15 on top of the original 15. So, we’re talking percentages because you also have to account for the fact that there was a general upswing in traffic volumes – because of the economy, we suspect – so we adjusted for that by looking at general crashes across the province, plus looking at the adjacent segments where no changes of speeds limits were done.”
Lovegrove said in a province like B.C., where motorists deal with high altitude conditions, inclement weather, curvature, and sharp drop-offs, a study cannot simply look at the number of collisions before and after a speed limit change and come to a reliable conclusion.
“You have to look at confounding factors, and with micro-climbs, you can account for that by looking at adjacent segments,” he said.
Lovegrove did admit that the study does not adequately adjust for increased traffic volumes, as they were not privy to the exact increases on the affected highways.
“When crashes go up, we know there is a causing factor,” said Lovegrove, “more traffic means more crash risk, generally speaking.”
They did look at the province’s permanent count stations, but Lovegrove said those can be miles away from the segments of highway being studied.
Rather than using the empirical bayes model, as the B.C. government did for its findings, Lovegrove and his team looked at as many adjacent segments as they could to determine whether speed was a contributing factor to the increase in collisions.
Empirical bayes models look at a sample of around 200 similar sites, or road segments, and compares those finding to what actually occurred at the site being reviewed, with the truth being somewhere in the middle.
“It would be a case control methodology that we did,” Lovegrove explained, “while the Ministry of Transportation in B.C. did more of an empirical bayes method to account for confounding factors.”
The study did not specifically look at the impact trucks had on the increase in collisions. Lovegrove said because the uptick in accidents that occurred on the segments of highways with increased speed limits was so low at 15, it would be difficult to prove speed had any impact on truck collisions, given the number would be even lower.
Lovegrove did point out that on uphill grades, trucks would not be traveling at a faster speed, which would cause higher differential speeds on that stretch of highway.
“I suspect even on the downhill the differential would have increased because truckers are very good, trained professionals…and they drive according to conditions, except when they make a mistake,” said Lovegrove. “They would not overdrive the conditions and therefore you would probably see, as an overall trend, an increase in differential speed.”
Lovegrove said one of the reasons the government increased the speed limits in 2014 was to decrease differential speeds, but for truck drivers, it did not work out that way due to B.C.’s hilly terrain.
Lovegrove said increasing speed limits on straight stretches of highway, such as from Calgary to the border of Norther Ontario, would be one thing, but doing so on roads with steep grades, sharp turns, and unpredictable weather is another.
Shelley McGuinness, communications specialist for the B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA), said they support the reduction in speed limits announced by the government, and initially opposed the increases in 2014.
For its members and all in the trucking industry, the BCTA would like to see speed enforcement take the next step.
“We’d prefer to go further on speed-related safety measures for the industry,” she said, “and require heavy trucks to operate with speed limiters set at 105 km/hr. and will continue to push for that.”
BCTA president and CEO Dave Earle also agreed with the reduced speed limit on the 15 segments of highway.
“The stopping distance for heavy commercial vehicles increases at higher speeds, as does the force of impact, so safety measures that help reduce these risks for both commercial and passenger vehicle drivers is important,” said Earle. “As well as safety, lower speeds mean greater fuel efficiency and fewer greenhouse gas emissions, a welcome side-effect worth noting.”
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said speeding is one of the Top 3 contributing factors to collisions.
“Research has shown that reducing speed lowers the number of crashes and severity of injuries, so I am very supportive of the speed limit reductions,” said Henry. “I look forward to the safety measures that will be implemented on B.C. roads and will continue to work with the Road Safety Strategy Steering Committee to advocate for initiatives that will help keep all road users in B.C. healthy and safe.”
Highways that will see a decreased speed limit of 10 km/hr. are:
• Highway 1: Cowichan Bay to Nanaimo – 90 km/hr. to 80 km/hr.
• Highway 1: Whatcom Road to Hope – 110 km/hr. to 100 km/hr.
• Highway 1: Boston Bar to Jackass Mountain – 100 km/hr. to 90 km/hr.
• Highway 1: Tobiano to Savona – 100 km/hr. to 90 km/hr.
• Highway 1: Chase to Sorrento – 100 km/hr. to 90 km/hr.
• Highway 3: Sunday Summit to Princeton – 90 km/hr. to 80 km/hr.
• Highway 7: Agassiz to Hope – 100 km/hr. to 90 km/hr.
• Highway 19: Parksville to Campbell River – 120 km/hr. to 110 km/hr.
• Highway 19: Bloedel to Sayward – 100 km/hr. to 90 km/hr.
• Highway 97A: Grindrod to Sicamous – 90 km/hr. to 80 km/hr.
• Highway 97C: Merritt to Aspen Grove – 110 km/hr. to 100 km/hr.
• Highway 97C: Aspen Grove to Peachland – 120 km/hr. to 110 km/hr.
• Highway 99: Horseshoe Bay to Squamish – 90 km/hr. to 80 km/hr.
• Highway 99: Squamish to Whistler – 100 km/hr. to 90 km/hr.
• Highway 99: Whistler to Pemberton – 90 km/hr. to 80 km/hr.
Highways where speeds will remain unchanged are:
• Highway 1: Salmon Arm to Revelstoke – 100 km/hr.
• Highway 1: Revelstoke to Golden – 100 km/hr.
• Highway 3: Hope to Coquihalla – 110 km/hr.
• Highway 3: Sunshine Valley to Manning Park East Boundary – 100 km/hr.
• Highway 5: Hope to Kamloops – 120 km/hr.
• Highway 5: Heffley to Little Fort – 100 km/hr.
• Highway 6: New Denver to Hills – 90 km/hr.
• Highway 6: Summit Lake to Nakusp – 100 km/hr.
• Highway 19: Campbell River to Bloedel – 90 km/hr.
• Highway 19: Port McNeill to Port Hardy – 100 km/hr.
• Highway 33: McCulloch Road to Black Mountain – 100 km/hr.
• Highway 33: Rock Creek to Westbridge – 100 km/hr.
• Highway 97: Cache Creek to 100 Mile House – 110 km/hr.
• Highway 97: Swan Lake to Monte Creek – 90 km/hr.
• Highway 97A: Armstrong to Enderby – 100 km/hr.
• Highway 99: Lillooet to Cache Creek – 100 km/hr.