Sign crew installs new speed limit markers on Highway 97C in 2014. Limit for that highway has been returned to 110 km/h, but the main Coquihalla Highway limit remains at 120. (B.C. government)

B.C. VIEWS: Setting speed limits in a post-fact political environment

Media prefer ‘speed kills’ narrative, even when it fails to appear

The B.C. government’s latest adjustment of speed limits on rural highways is a case study in how modern politics and media run over the facts and leave them on the side of the road.

You may have heard that in early November, speed limit increases were rolled back on 14 of the 33 segments of rural B.C. highway where they were increased by 10 km/h in 2014. You probably didn’t hear that 16 other sections were left as is, because the accident rate didn’t go up with increased limits.

In some cases, speed measurement showed the higher speed limit resulted in average travel speed, and accidents, going down. Across the province, exceeding the posted speed limit was determined by police to be an insignificant factor in collisions.

For all segments with increased speed limits, the biggest factor by far in three years of police collision reports is “driver inattentive” at 25 per cent. That’s followed by “road conditions” (15 per cent), “driving too fast for conditions” (13 per cent), “fell asleep” (five per cent) and “wild animal” (four per cent). Exceeding the posted speed limit was tied with impaired driving at two per cent each.

These are the facts that weren’t allowed to get in the way of a juicy political story.

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena mostly stuck to her script, but savoured her days as an opposition critic, attacking then-minister Todd Stone for his allegedly irresponsible decision to increase speed limits. Trevena allowed that it was “shocking” that accidents increased by 17 per year on her home stretch of highway, from Parksville to Campbell River, after not changing at all the first year after the increase.

And sure enough, it was Stone who faced a wall of TV cameras and demands that he explain how he could be so reckless as to increase speed limits.

I’m guilty of feeding this narrative too. It was I who in 2014 revealed that “Hot Rod Todd,” as he was known, once got (gasp) a speeding ticket on the Coquihalla! That’s why the speed limit for the Coquihalla was raised to the unprecedented 120 km/h, so the minister could blast back and forth to his Kamloops home!

The story practically writes itself, but like most coffee shop wisdom, it’s bunk. As it turns out, the Coquihalla speed limit stays at 120. As Stone pointed out, it remains among the safest highways in the province.

One obvious factor in this three-year period is the winter of 2016-17, the coldest on record for Metro Vancouver and large parts of southern B.C. And last winter featured heavy snow.

Harsh winter weather may explain why drivers slowed down on some stretches of road where speed limits had been increased. Anyone with highway driving experience knows that whatever the posted limit, the majority of responsible drivers choose how fast they will go.

Transportation ministry engineers use a measure called “85th percentile speeds,” which they define as “a representation of the speed at which reasonable and prudent drivers choose to travel.”

It’s important to understand this, as the province and its taxpayers wrestle with the soaring costs of accidents and ICBC claims. Calling the corporation’s financial situation a “dumpster fire” over and over again is easy for reporters, and great politics for Attorney General David Eby, but it doesn’t get anyone closer to solutions.

Our highways are safer, vehicles are safer, driver training is more rigorous, and yet costly accidents continue to increase.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Prince Rupert lawyer awarded Queen’s counsel designation

Barry Zacharias is one of 28 lawyers to receive the award in B.C.

Prince Rupert draws its line for cannabis business

City council approved cannabis retail zone area on Dec. 10 after a public hearing

Rushbrook Trail partially closed after storm

Trees collapsed during a windstorm in Prince Rupert Monday night partially obstructing the trail

Charles Hays Rainmakers dry up in final game

The Charles Hays Rainmakers finished second at the No Regrets Tournament over the weekend

Students learn how to code a drone in SD52

Prince Rupert Middle School students tested their programming skills during the Hour of Code

Prince Rupert Rampage host Teddy Bear night

Prince Rupert Rampage teamed up with the Salvation Army to give back this weekend

Shop Prince Rupert is back

These businesses are all taking part in the Shop Prince Rupert event until December 21 at noon

Humboldt Broncos, cannabis, Fortnite: Here are Canadians’ top Google searches for 2018

When celebrities died or Canada Post went on strike, Canada turned to Google

B.C. billionaires worth 5,845 times average middle-income household

Economists argue for changes to Canadian tax system benefitting rich

Condominium market still ‘a lot better’ than normal in Vancouver suburbs

The Fraser Valley, east of Metro Vancouver, has long been considered a more affordable haven for first-time homebuyers.

Retired B.C. teacher a YouTube Sudoku sensation

A retired Kelowna teacher has amassed quite the following online by teaching the art of solving a Sudoku puzzle.

UN chief returns as climate talks teeter closer to collapse

Predictions from international climate expert, warn that global warming is set to do irreversible environmental damage.

Trump’s willingness to intervene in Meng detention roils Canada’s justification

The International Crisis Group said Tuesday, Dec. 11 it’s aware of reports that its North East Asia senior adviser Michael Kovrig has been detained.

Scientist awarded $100K for work on Arctic contaminants that led to ban

Derek Muir has received the $100,000 Weston Family Prize for his research that showed those carcinogens were able to move into the Arctic.

Most Read