Dr. Perry Kendall and BCMA Should Stick to What They Know

BC taxpayers own our highways and although they should have a say in how they are used, they should NOT be asked to decide what the speed limits should be; the same applies for anybody who has no means of objective analysis or engineering training. This should be an engineering based and led process. We recognize the political and practical reality for a Transportation Minister facing strong headwinds from firmly entrenched special interests, but it has to stop.

Leaders of BC’s medical doctors have a long history of making pronouncements on traffic engineering issues where they have little education. That’s why although it was disappointing, it was not surprising, to recently read medical doctor and BC Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall’s negative comments about the Ministry of Transportation’s well researched and cautious plans to raise specific speed limits on some highways.

The public should have a right to expect doctors, particularly those on the public payroll, to offer opinions backed by evidence-based science. Further, it would provide confidence and trust for us, when they “write on behalf of BC’s public health physicians…” if they’d focus objectively on the fields relating to their expertise, rather than opine in the domain of professional traffic engineers.

Kendall ignored research and data published in the BC Rural Highway Safety and Speed Review. Shame on him; the public is expected to take him seriously when he tells us bird flu will kill us or that we should trust vaccines.

Instead, he repeated the same emotion laden and, in some cases false, cherry picked justifications for excessive fines and penalties levied against drivers travelling at safe and reasonable speeds on highways posted below proper engineer-determined speed limits.

Prior to the NDP BC Government launch of the ill fated Photo Radar program in 1996, ICBC went to all the usual suspects for “endorsements” for the program and all the speed kills advertising. This included municipal Chambers of Commerces, MADD, BCAA, BCMA, and various community groups. We phoned one of the BC directors of MADD who was responsible for the endorsement to ask what they knew about speed related problems on BC roads and photo radar and were shocked to find out he didn’t know a damn thing. But they enthusiastically endorsed Photo Radar and the NDP led ICBC “Speed is Killing Us” campaign anyway.

At least one regional board member, Kamloops trauma surgeon Dr. Dennis Karpiak was annoyed with the BCMA for approving a program which it had done little to no critical analysis of, and he raised a fuss until we (SENSE BC) were invited to the BCMA board to make a presentation. To make it “fair” and give at least the optics of some due diligence, they also invited a pro Photo Radar spokesperson to the meeting. When SENSE’s Mike Cain and Ian Tootill arrived for the meeting, some of the board members were not even there (like Hedy Fry, the useless Liberal MP from Vancouver) and we said, “Since you’ve already heard the pitch from the pro camp, why don’t they go first so we can hear what they said and we’ll rebut”.

The response was no, you go first and you’ve got 15 min (approx. based on memory). So we launched into our presentation of statistics, studies and facts to show why photo radar would NOT save the lives they’d been led to believe it would.

Silly us, we thought doctors would be interested in critical analysis, objective evidence and arguments relating to why their endorsement might not be in the best interests of the people of BC.

What followed was a 10 minute talk from a VPD traffic officer on what it was like for him to visit the parents of a child run down on a crosswalk. That’s it, nothing else. And that is the biggest problem we have in BC…. people who know nothing about speed limit setting and road engineering have been given the bully pulpit with public funds to treat us like imbeciles.

Some of Dr. Perry’s gems:

From Metro News: “Most of the literature in North American would suggest that increasing the speed limits causes people to drive faster and there are, unfortunately, more crashes and accidents,” Kendall said. “We are concerned that increasing the speed limits – even though it’s only on about 14 per cent of British Columbia’s roads – has the possibility of increasing speeding.”

False: In fact there is little literature to suggest that, and there are approximately 40 jurisdictions in the US which have increased speed limits since 1996 because they find greater compliance, better safety and better utilization of roads as a result. It’s not on 14% of BC roads; it’s on 5% of selected BC rural highways.

From The Vancouver Sun OpEd: “ BC’s stated goal in its Road Safety Strategy is to work toward zero deaths and zero injuries on roads. We fear that these goals will not be met…”

True: They won’t be met, until driving and acts of god are stopped altogether. Dr Perry and people like the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles are playing a cruel joke on the people of BC if they believe we can operate private cars on public highways on a limited budget and meet those goals.

We’ve been fighting an uphill battle in BC for years with special interests which are paid from the public purse. Dr. Perry and the BCMA should stick to what they know or their credibility and our trust in them suffers.

Update: July 21, 2014: Dr. Perry Kendall’s response to criticism in his letter to the editor of The Vancouver Sun:

Dr. Perry Kendall, has responded to our criticism that doctors are not road safety engineers and that they should stick to what they know.

Yes, he’s cherry picked his information (as we do admittedly) to support his bias. In his OpEd piece he said “There is, in fact, little controversy in the scientific literature on the association between speed, crashes, and related death.” Yet in his most recent letter he refers to the work of Norwegian traffic safety researcher Rune Elvik.

Here is the first sentence in the preface to Elvik’s 2004 report “Speed and road accidents”: “The relationship between speed and road safety is a highly controversial and emotionally charged subject.”

Yes it is, and that’s exactly our point and Dr. Perry Kendall doesn’t get it apparently so we’ll say it again. We don’t need DOCTORS or SCIENTISTS on the public payroll to offer subjective opinions based on cherry picked research that has nothing to do with their field of expertise.

Elvik’s research asserts slower is better and it assumes the availability of full time invasive enforcement to achieve compliance. Norway and Sweden have some of the slowest speed limits in Europe where Rune Elvik has his audience.

Nobody disputes the role of speed and crashes, nor the fact the faster you go (when you hit something), the more damage will be done. That’s not up for debate. What is up for debate is how speed limits should be set.

The Vancouver Sun Letters: Monday, July 21: Doctors’ speed concerns supported

“Re: Speed limit plan based on the facts, July 17

Ian Toothill and Michael Cain state that assessing the risk of increasing speed limits should be based on science, not emotive cherry picking of the data. The opinion piece from B.C.’s public health physicians (New limits may charge death toll, July 14), and our previous submissions to the B.C. Rural Highway Safety and Speed Review, are based on, among other sources, a series of meta-analyses, which in total reviewed 115 studies examining the relationship between speed and car crashes. The conclusions, published by Rune Elvik: in 2004, 2009, and 2013, confirm the powerful relationship between speed, injuries, and fatalities and are consistent with other published reviews.

While a 2003 report, Review and Analysis of Posted Speed Limits and Speed Limit Setting Practices in B.C., prepared for the ministry of transportation and referenced in the Rural Highway and Speed Review, does cite one B.C. study that found decreases in crashes following a speed-limit increase in 1998, the authors state “The reduction in total crashes . . . did not follow the same trends found in most other crash investigations,” and “It is possible other factors unrelated to the speed limit influenced the crash reductions.” The 2003 review also cites eight studies looking at the impact of decreasing speed limits, six of which showed a reduction in crashes, and 11 studies that looked at increases in speed limits, eight of which showed an increase in crashes or fatalities.

While we will be happy to be proven wrong, we are of the opinion the evidence to support increasing speed limits as a safety measure, is at best, extremely limited.


B.C. provincial health officer”

Dr. Perry’s original The Vancouver Sun OpEd here:

Raising speeds flies in the face of road safety, B.C. doctors warn


  1. dennis karpiak

    July 22, 2014

    I sat on the board of the BCMA for 12 yrs and was a member of the vehicle safety committee.Over this time by presenting facts about the 85th percentile,speed variance,lane discipline,failure to yield those board members who possessed critical thinking skills and made the effort to understand the science of setting speed limits quickly shifted their position from the simplistic speed kills mantra to the more scientific model.Dr Perry Kendall and his cohort public health people should have attended some of these sessions but you would still need to possess critical thinking skills which are lacking in the speed kills crowd.My brother was killed at age 37 on a highway and his death had nothing to do with speed instead was due to bad driving by the other guy.if the public health people want to make themselves useful they should address the issue of all the bad drivers on the road but this may take more effort than parroting speed kills.The Canadian Medical Association at their annual general meeting that was held in Winnipeg a decade ago voted unanimously to demand that governments address the problem of unskilled drivers and get off the speed kills intellectual laziness.

    Dennis Karpiak MD FRCPC FCCP Internist and Critical Care

  2. Jerome Collins

    July 19, 2014

    The fact is, doctors hardly know their own patch. The myth of dietary fat leading to breast cancer — a “fact” in the 1990s — was conclusively debunked in a 2006 study, but that has not stopped doctors from pushing that myth to their patients. Likewise, there is no link between dietary cholesterol and elevated bad-cholesterol levels and heart disease, but if you go for a checkup, you’ll likely get a lecture on staying away from high-cholesterol foods.

  3. Robert Pestes

    July 19, 2014

    Please keep up the objective and well reasoned counterpoint that this issue so badly needs. Talking to the “speed kills” crowd is a little like arguing with the Flat Earth Society – they know what they now and don’t want to be confused with facts.
    The combination of lobbying by Sense BC and the backbone of Transportation Minister Todd Stone to face down the numerous vested anti-speed interests have finally resulted in speed limits that are closer to what they should be according to engineers who actually understand the issue.
    Finally, a positive step towards road safety, instead of the usual, counterproductive propaganda.

  4. James C. Walker

    July 18, 2014

    Traffic safety engineers have known for 70+ years that the correct speed limit to post in almost all cases to produce the smoothest and safest traffic flows is the 85th percentile speed of free flowing traffic under good conditions – rounded to the nearest 10 kph (or 5 mph) interval.

    Setting artificially low posted limits for the non-scientific emotional reasons quoted by unqualified people and/or supported by those in the revenue stream from speed trap tickets should carry precisely zero weight in the decisions of what limits to post.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  5. Carew

    July 17, 2014

    When B.C. last raised rural highway speeds in 1997−from 90 km/h to 100 km/hr−the number of serious collisions fell by 18 per cent in the following five-year period. And this coincided with a time when traffic volumes rose nearly a third!

  6. Vincent Smith

    July 17, 2014

    Well said and objectively written article and if you haven’t done so submit it to the Vancouver Sun and Province for Op ed publication.

  7. Randy

    July 16, 2014

    Great article….could not agree more..keep up the good fight.

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