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.
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