In December 2013, the BC Provincial Government began inviting submissions from the public regarding the rural highway speed limits. The following post is the way Mike Geoghegan sees it. Mike Geoghegan is one of the foremost government and media relations consultants working in British Columbia today. At the provincial government level he served five years as a Ministerial Assistant in the portfolios of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; and Small Business, Tourism and Culture. For more information check out his company website at www.mgcltd.ca
Let me begin by stating that I am a Road Star, I receive the maximum safe driver discount from ICBC because of my accident free driving record. I attribute my accident free record to the fact that I pay attention to the road and I go with the flow of traffic. Because I do a lot of driving I find that this habit tends to also net me one or two tickets per year. Thus I get the joy of receiving an obnoxious computer generated letter from ICBC threatening some mysterious punitive action because of my reckless behaviour. Imagine how incredibly insulting and patronising such nanny state missives are, especially as someone who insures four vehicles with ICBC.
As someone who has driven extensively in the United States and to a lesser extent Germany let me state that I support speed limits. I have driven on the autobahn where there are no speed limits and passing a truck while a split second later having some BMW six inches off your bumper, left blinker going, is unsettling to say the least. I find it stressful, but I also find driving in British Columbia equally stressful because of our low speed limits and the number of poorly educated drivers we have particularly in the Victoria area.
On several occasions now I have watched in horror at drivers who are stopped on a merge lane because they do not understand the critical difference between a merge and a yield. I have watched cars lazily go into the left lane without passing cars in the right which is the rule on most highways in North America. I frequently drive on the Pat Bay Highway. For most of its length the speed limit is only 80 km/h. No one drives this speed limit, not even the police, except when the cops are out there trolling for dollars. The inevitable result is bottle necks enhanced by the new slow down move over rule which pretty much ensures we now lose a lane and dangerous traffic congestion ensues.
I once talked to a retired RCMP officer about the Pat Bay Highway and he noted that in France the same road would have a speed limit of 130 km/h. That may be a tad high but 80 km/h for most of its length is certainly far too low. The law should reflect what speed most traffic is actually driving at and on the Pat Bay that would be 100 to 110 km/h
Let me contrast the anxiety I feel driving with the flow of traffic in BC, with that of driving in the United States where speed limits are on average 30 per cent higher. First of all when I am going with the flow on a US Interstate, cars are generally at or below the posted speed limit and there is a focus on moving vehicles efficiently. If people are not passing they stay in the right hand lane on a four lane highway. Even under heavy traffic conditions it is often far easier to get around on a given stretch of highway in Washington State than in BC
The Sea to Sky Highway is a particularly amusing example of our province’s penchant for low speed limits. I was driving up to Whistler to attend a UBCM conference shortly after the Sea to Sky Highway had received its billion dollar upgrade. The speed limits were kept at 80 km/h. It was a bright sunny September day with ideal driving conditions and as a result every vehicle was in the right hand lane driving at exactly 110 km/h. We are talking everything from one tonne trucks to sports cars all doing 110 km/h while leaving the left passing lane completely empty. No one wanted to do 120 km/h and risk getting their vehicle impounded but everyone was content to do 110 km/h and risk getting a speeding ticket. That is because the speed limit was kept far too low.
A similar situation happened on the Nanaimo Parkway when it first opened; its speed limit was set at only 80 km/h. So many tickets were issued (the Nanaimo RCMP are noted for their enthusiasm in handing out speeding tickets) that a public backlash ensued and the speed limit was raised to 90 km/h. I was one of the people unfortunate enough to get a ticket back when it was still 80 km/h for going 90 km/h with the result that the state was able to milk me for a lot of money for having the temerity to go with the flow of traffic in the passing lane.
In general all highways that are posted at 80 km/h in BC should be raised to 100 km/h and all 90 km/h should be raised to 110 km/h. There are going to be road situations like the infamous Malahat where speed limits will have to be lower but those signs should be in yellow to indicate that the government is not just being capricious but that this is a dangerously inadequate road and thus drive cautiously.
Now what about those all too rare sections of road where the current speed limit is 100 km/h or even 110 km/h? Again bump them up by 20 km/h to 120 km/h and 130 km/h respectively. There may be sections where you need to keep the speed limit lower than that but overall there should not be a highway in British Columbia with a general speed limit of less than 100 km/h. If there is then you should not call it a highway and certainly not a freeway call it what it is a substandard roadway.
With speed limits that are set to maximise the flow of traffic rather than government revenue, I think we would have far less distracted drivers and fewer accidents. In fact in those places in the United States where speed limits increased, traffic accidents and fatalities declined. We might even start seeing the return of tourists who drive to B.C.
I thank you for your due consideration of this submission. I would have presented it in person to your Nanaimo hearing except quite frankly I avoid driving up island because of the appalling condition of the Malahat and the aforementioned enthusiasm of the Nanaimo RCMP for ticketing drivers on the Island Highway.