Increasing speed limits is not a death wish

David Booth is Postmedia’s senior automotive writer with 28 years experience on reporting all things automotive. His Motor Mouth column is syndicated throughout Postmedia’s newspapers from Vancouver to Montreal. This article appeared originally in driving.ca on October 9, 2013 and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.

Frustration is most commonly defined as poorly expressed anger, its motivation our often-unrealistic expectation that the world — and its inhabitants — should act in what we would deem, in our own, not-so-humble opinions, a logical and timely manner. Its manifestation, then, is simply the impatience as we wait for others to catch up or, as anyone who has ever suffered road rage can attest, for that damn Buick to get the hell out of the fast lane.

I had a lot of time to contemplate the limits of my own irascibility recently, having spent some 500 kilometres behind the wheel of a McLaren MP4-12C. Normally, driving a 616-horsepower supercar is anything but a frustration, accompanied as it usually is by a few moments of full-throttle silliness or — if you’re as preternaturally spoiled as me — a few laps around some convenient race track.

But having previously done all that, I was more interested in how the monster-motor, stiffly suspended supercar might fare as simple transportation. Would I still love the McLaren if I drove it like a Camry? And therein blossomed my fascination with frustration. For although there are all manner of colloquial definitions for stress — the one about having to resist the desire to choke someone who desperately deserves it being my favourite — trying to maintain 80 kilometres an hour on what is a perfectly safe secondary highway in a McLaren MP4 certainly ranks up there.

It would appear that one doesn’t need to have 600-plus horsepower underfoot to understand that frustration. Resistance to our draconian speed limits would appear to be growing. Besides stop100.ca, whose call for more reasonable speed limits recently reached top spot on the Ontario Liberal Party’s policy suggestion website, an online video by Sense BC/Six7Films called Speed Kills…Your Pocketbook recently went viral (more than a million views already) with its lament of the ridiculously low posted limits in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland.

Both stop100.ca and Sense BC/Six7Films roil against 100 kilometre an hour speed limits, citing evidence both anecdotal (cases of families being stranded on the side of the road for exceeding “street racing” laws) and evidentiary (pertinent statistics from other jurisdictions). Most telling are the stats showing that places such as Germany, the land of unrestricted speeds, actually have fewer highway fatalities than our own highways. And lest you think that’s simply the result of better driver education — for which the Germans are famous — both cite numerous examples of jurisdictions in the United States (not a country known for its stringent drive education, or good drivers, for that matter) with death rates diminishing after speed limits were raised.

One might surmise that anyone so vociferously decrying our speed limits would be law-breaking scofflaws looking to transform the roads into speed-unlimited anarchy. Instead, both stop100.ca and Sense BC are simply pursuing what they say is a more reasonable 120 to 130-km/h range. Speed Kills’ recommendation is based on something called the Crash Risk Curve, a principle developed in the 1960s by David Solomon, which simply postulates that the danger on roads is a result of the diversity of speed between vehicles rather than their absolute velocity. According to the theory, which enjoys widespread (but not universal) acceptance, the safest speed to travel is the traffic’s median. And that, according to the authors, matches 85% of drivers. Unfortunately, for anyone who has ever received a speeding ticket (and, I suspect, that’s pretty much everyone in Canada), that 85th percentile speed seems to be somewhere in the aforementioned 120 to 130-km/h range.

Of course, as soon as any discussion of raised speed limits is broached, the safety nannies trot out the argument that if people are exceeding the current posted speed limits by 20 or 30 km/h, raising the speed limit to 130 will soon have people rocketing along at 160 km/h. Poppycock, says Chris Thompson, narrator of the Speed Kills video. He suggests we are already driving at the speed we feel most comfortable with, and that jurisdictions that have raised the speed limits have seen little increase in the median speed motorists drive. Thompson’s video quotes a report commissioned by B.C.’s own government (Posted Speed Limits and Speed Limit Setting Practices in British Columbia) that recommends “the speed limit should be set so that a majority of motorists observe it voluntarily and enforcement can be directed to the minority of offenders.”

This is a subtlety obvious lost on Officer Tim Kravjanski of the West Vancouver Police Traffic section. While clocking the speed of motorists for a Global TV expose that the Six7Films evaluates, Officer Kravjanski notes that “we haven’t seen a single person that was doing the speed limit here,” the implication being that our civilization, or at least the motoring part of it, has deteriorated so far that we are all guilty of unsafe driving.

Of course, it doesn’t take a law degree to understand that if all the citizens of a land are breaking a law, then it is more probable that it’s a badly written law than all of the inhabitants have suddenly become miscreants. But, then, I suspect our governments already know that. After all, if everyone is an offender, then everyone can be fined.

Cars and drivers are faster

According to Ontario’s Road Safety Annual Report, 755,148 drivers were convicted of speeding in 2010. That’s a whopping increase of 68% since 1996, meaning either a) Ontarians have become speed demons or, b) The police know a sure-fire money-maker when they see it. While speeding accounts for 60% of all traffic offences under the Highway Traffic Act, when you eliminate equipment and other administrative convictions (vehicle registration, license renewal, etc.), speeding makes up a whopping 72% of all moving offences. One possible answer is, of course, that all those speeding scofflaws are extraordinarily diligent about adhering to the rest of the traffic code. Or, as it is more likely, other offences require more than the five minutes that a speed-related traffic stop requires of the constabulary’s time. It’s also worth noting that in the same year, there were only 16,926 convictions for alcohol-related offences, yet some 20% of all fatalities involved drivers impaired by either drugs or alcohol.

Watch Sense BC’s video here.

© Copyright (c) Driving

Comments

  1. Tim Kravjanski

    January 19, 2015

    What really gets to me is that you pass judgement on me without ever speaking to me.

    You state you are “Senior automotive writer with 28 years experience on reporting all things automotive”, then you should source your info and realize that the media only post clips of what is said during an interview. You judge me on these TV clips and therefore you are not a professional journalist.

    My official view is that we, as police should be looking at anything above the 80th percentile, or below the 20th percentile and ticketing those for either going to fast or going to slow. This is my view.

    I have 23 years of traffic enforcement experience, I’m a trained collision analyst/reconstructionist and have first hand experience at seeing the difference in the damage that occurs to a car at 80 km/h vs 160 km/h. If a normal car travelling at over 125 km/h crashes into an immovable object (tree/lamppost/concrete wall), you will be injured, not maybe, will be. Lets look at vehicles travelling at 70 km/h in a 60 km/h speed limit on the Lions Gate bridge, an undivided highway with only three lanes, the centre lane switching directions. If two cars at 70 km/h collide head on, it’s like hitting an immovable wall at 140 km/h, at this speed in a head on collision, people will likely die, and I have seen many people died on that bridge. On a divided highway, with proper modern concrete barriers that deflect the car, instead of stopping it immediately, higher speeds are usually survivable, light poles have shear boxes, signs are designed to break away, the road are designed for speed. The Lions Gate Bridge is not designed for speed.

    I also think the keep right laws in BC need to be strengthened, too many times I see people enter Highway #1 and pull across the right lane (no cars in the right lane) directly into the left lane and remain there for no reason. Staying in the left lane unnecessarily when traffic is flowing well is dangerous and does cause collisions. However, there needs to be an exemption when traffic is heavy to allow a vehicle to remain in the left lane to increase the volume capacity of the highway during rush hour. This is common sense.

    I’m a professional driver, with a class 1,6 licence, motor vehicle inspector, months of driver training on all types of vehicles, I’m a motorcycle officer with escort training, police driving instructor, pursuit intervention techniques instructor. I have been driving cars for over 34 years and motorcycles for over 38 years.

    Feel free to call me, a professional police officer, any time you want to find out the real truth, don’t rely on the media or internet hacks for your information.

    • Chris Thompson

      March 5, 2015

      Hi Sgt. Kravjanski, it’s Chris Thompson here, the producer of Speed Kills Your
      Pocketbook. I’m sure you’re familiar with my work.

      I’d like to start questioning why you seem to feel you know what’s best for road
      safety. While you highlight your extensive qualifications as a police officer
      and accident investigator, you convey information which is false and resort to
      name-calling. In fact, you provide a first class example of why police shouldn’t
      be making many decisions when it comes to speed limits.

      I must admit, when my video first became so successful, I had a pang of guilt
      regarding the segment where you were lasering cars on the Lions Gate. My point
      of that particular segment was the unfortunately lazy editing of the news
      editors in creating that story, and I thought it was possible that you were just
      an honest and hard-working, if somewhat overzealous, police officer frustrated
      with trying to police a law which absolutely nobody obeyed.

      Now I can see that’s not the case; which is a shame, because I do agree with
      your points about left-lane bandits.

      You said, “What really gets to me is that [Mr. Booth passes] judgement on me without ever
      speaking to me.” Booth didn’t do that; rather he said that the possibility that
      the speed limit was set too low simply didn’t occur to you while you were
      uniformly condemning the motoring public. He did not pass judgment on any
      aspect of your personality, or take issue with your qualifications as a police
      officer or accident investigator.

      But I will.

      You stated “My official view is that we, as police should be looking at anything
      above the 80th percentile, or below the 20th percentile and ticketing those for
      either going too fast or going too slow. This is my view.”

      Is that so?

      Traffic engineers, the Ministry of Transportation, Institute of Transportation
      Engineers, numerous US DOTs, and pretty much everyone else who’s studied this
      sort of thing take the view that it is the 85th percentile which should be the
      guide for speed limits (with enforcement tolerances of +-10%). Notwithstanding,
      while there are exceptions like playgrounds and school zones, I can think of
      three possibilities of where you got the 80th and 20th percentiles from:

      1. You made them up on the spot. This is unlikely, as you seem to have
      thought a lot about this.

      2. You mis-interpreted or mis-remembered the engineering guidelines. Also
      unlikely, as the 85th percentile has been widely discussed regarding speed
      limits in British Columbia.

      3. You feel that the might of your individual experience outweighs the
      knowledge of countless government agencies and professional engineers who have
      made it their life’s work studying and planning these sorts of things.

      Option 3 (you think you know better than everybody else) seems likely, and let
      me explain why.

      You stated that “If two cars at 70 km/h collide head on, it’s like hitting an
      immovable wall at 140 km/h.” It is not, and you’re wrong by a factor of four.
      Although it may seem counterintuitive for those that haven’t studied the
      physics, two cars colliding head-on at 70km/h is like one car hitting a brick
      wall at 70 km/h. I’ve given you the proof** below for your convenience.
      By the way, Mythbusters took this on and completely dispelled your assertion
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8E5dUnLmh4.

      But the main reason I feel entitled to pass judgement on you was from when you
      said, “feel free to call me, a professional police officer, any time you want to
      find out the real truth, don’t rely on the media or internet hacks for your
      information.”

      If you’re going to call me an “internet hack” and hold yourself out as the
      arbiter of the “real truth”, you’d better make sure anything you post doesn’t
      include basic mistakes about the physics which you should have known from your
      “23 years of traffic enforcement …[and] collision analyst/reconstructionist
      experience.” If you are confused by applications of kinetic energy transfer, I
      think you should stick to giving out speeding tickets – I can only assume you
      have gotten quite good at that.

      I am quite grateful that you commented on David Booth’s column, as it quite
      clearly demonstrates the “god-complex” that some police officers have when it
      comes to enforcing speed limits. And that’s the part that frightens me – you
      have the power to take significant amounts of money from every-day Canadians who
      simply have the misfortune to be driving anywhere in your vicinity. If more
      police officers you like you spoke more often, the public would get a much
      better idea of the mindset and ignorance of some of the people entrusted with
      enforcing traffic.

      But then what do I know, I’m just an internet hack.

      Chris(chris@six7films.com)

      **Proof:Numerically: Energy = ½mv^2. If one car hits a brick wall at speed v (say
      70km/h), the energy dissipated in the car is 1/2mv^2. If two (identical) cars
      are travelling towards each other, the energy of the two vehicles is 2 *
      (1/2mv^2). The twos cancel out, and the total energy dissipated in the accident
      is mv^2. Plus, there are two cars, and each car dissipates half the energy, so
      the kinetic energy that each car has to absorb while crumpling is 1/2mv^2, which
      is identical to the energy dissipated when one car hits a brick wall. When one
      car hits a brick wall at 2v (140km/h), the energy dissipated is 1/2m(2v)^2,
      which reduces to 2mv^2 (two to the power of two is four, divided by two is two),
      which means there is four times the amount of energy released into a car by that
      car hitting a brick wall at 140km/h than a 70km/h head on collision.

      Conceptually: If you slam two identical cars into each other at identical
      speeds, the physics suggests that you could draw an imaginary line in the middle
      and it would look the same on each side. If that was the case, it would mean
      that the car’s crumple characteristics would be identical to hitting an
      immovable object (represented by the imaginary line in the middle), such as a
      wall, since each car’s kinetic energy is only being absorbed by the car itself.
      If you pay attention to the Mythbuster video, you can see the imaginary line.

      • Tim

        March 30, 2015

        Chris, thank you for the reply, I guess Mr. Booth needed legal representation to reply to my comments?

        First, yes you are correct and I accidentally typed 80th percentile instead of 85th percentile, it should also be more like below the 55th-65th percentile for slow drivers (I never calculated that before). The formulas I wrote and used in excel have always calculated 85th percentile. I did many traffic studies over the years for certain area, all to make sure officers were being fair and not fishing.

        Your Myth Buster example is incorrect; and I over simplified. It has been shown that two cars colliding at half the speed produce the same amount of energy as one car colliding at full speed. So total energy in the collision is the same, but spread across both cars. I also didn’t get into weight differential, velocity differential, metal fatigue, offset collisions and many many more factors that can increase vehicle damage during a typical head on collision. I apologize for over simplifying and you might want to dig a bit deeper into a TV show’s conclusions before using it to prove your point.

        To clarify, I never called Mr. Booth any names. I voiced my concern that he was being unprofessional. That is not name calling. I would still love to talk to Mr. Booth about my thoughts on traffic safety.

        I must say, although you appear to have won a legal debate several years ago as per the law firm you work for, were you a bully then too?

        I was thinking for putting a jab in about lawyers making the world a safer place, but there are so many that do, so it wouldn’t be fair. Nor are you by painting all COPS as money grabbing idiots who don’t know anything about traffic safety.

        I’m happy to read the new left lane laws are coming into effect, however this will leave the left lane clear for people going way too fast and above the 85th percentile.

        Please drive safe and have a good and prosperous year.

  2. Brian

    January 9, 2014

    If the standards for acquiring a driver’s license were made more onerous, IOW if one actually had to learn to drive-not merely operate-a motor vehicle, speed limits could safely be increased on suitable roads and the pols would have fewer reasons to deny the increases. Driver’s tests should involve skid-pads and other real tests of a driver’s ability.

  3. Chuck Laidlaw

    November 6, 2013

    So, if Sense BC and this author are firm believers in Solomon’s postulation, that “the danger on roads is a result of the diversity of speed between vehicles rather than their absolute velocity”, would not raising the speed limit on Marine Dr from Kerr St to Boundary Rd to 80 or 100 kmh not INCREASE the POTENTIAL for speed differentials between vehicles? Or are you also advocating that it become an offence for ANY driver to travel at LESS than the posted speed limit on urban streets?

    • Ian

      November 9, 2013

      The point is that not too many are going 50 on that road. So who becomes the danger then in your opinion?

  4. Garth Muddle

    October 20, 2013

    As an ex RCMP member, I fully support your “raise the speed limit” agenda. We have completely sold our enforcement souls to cheap revenue generating photo radar and general speed enforcement which not surprisingly is doing little to make our roads safer.
    Recently the mayor of Calgary decreed that the City of Calgary would stop cancelling photo radar tickets obtained by Calgary Police Service members (driving their private cars). In the first month, they caught 1200 CPS officers in photo radar. Did they consider their speed unsafe? Apparently not.
    Is driving at a higher speed appropriate in many cases? I believe it is, and as you indicate, statistics prove the point. The problem with all photo radar and most regular radar enforcement is that the radar operator only observes the violator for a very short time, and the operator seldom has any idea whether the violator is a safe driver or not. Ticketing the safe drivers does nothing to enhance safety, frustrates law abiding citizens and ensures that the very most dangerous drivers on our highways can continue virtually undetected because the police are busy dealing with violators who are not part of the accident causing group. If traffic officers let traffic flow at it’s median speed and allowed people to concentrate on driving prudently and safely vs. watching for a speed limit change just to avoid the radar trap just past the change sign, we would all be better off.
    An effective enforcement solution would be to give the police proper unmarked cars (ones that don’t stand out as police vehicles) and a mandate to “get the idiots off the roads.” A good place to start is with the driver who is committing several violations, ie., following too close, changing lanes without signalling, changing lanes when unsafe (cutting other drivers off), driving while distracted and speeding. I call that cumulative enforcement. Anyone committing several offences at once deserves a “drive without due care and attention” or “drive without reasonable consideration for others using the highway” citation under the Highway Traffic Act or potentially a charge of dangerous driving under the Criminal Code. Make the apprehension of impaired drivers an absolute priority.
    It costs more to do this type of policing and while I understand it produces less revenue, our safety statistics would improve significantly and countless lives would be saved.

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