How fast is fast enough?
Ian Tootill has fought the law, again and again. He won, once. That was more than a decade ago, when he had a beef with photo radar introduced to B.C. by a “cashgrab” NDP government. Then the party was creamed in the 2001 provincial election, a new Liberal regime abolished the intrusive technology, and Mr. Tootill was pleased. But he wasn’t about to rest.
He turned to other matters. He waged war in Vancouver traffic court, after receiving a ticket for making “excessive noise” on his Harley Davidson motorcycle. He lost. He launched a campaign to establish free parking spaces for motorcycles, scooters and mopeds. No luck. He has raged against “hypocritical” smoking and drinking bylaws, and Vancouver’s “do-gooder controlling types.” Tough battles.
He’s now causing a stir with another favourite cause: raising highway speed limits – to 130 kilometres per hour. Even 140, on certain roadways. If Texans can push the needle to these speeds without fear of penalty – and the same goes for Bulgarians, Poles and those fast and efficient German drivers – then why can’t we?
Canadians aren’t bad drivers, but they’ve grown accustomed to being treated as such, says Mr. Tootill, co-founder of Safety by Education Not Speed Enforcement (SENSE), a prospeed group. The “avid motorist who knows how to handle a vehicle” says he’s fed up with “dumbed down” provincially set driving laws that treat drivers like children. Current speed limits that max out at 110 km/h in B.C and Alberta, as well as in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – 100 km/h in Ontario and other provinces – actually contribute to traffic accidents, he insists.
How is that? By creating on highways a phenomenon known as “speed variance.” We’ve all seen it, he says. A driver cruises at the posted speed limit. A slowpoke stubbornly hogs the passing lane. A frustrated lead foot determines to weave between them. Crash.
Most drivers exceed posted speed limits, according to statistics Mr. Tootill has compiled. What’s glaringly obvious, he says, is the need for more “lane discipline.” Smarter driving, in other words. “I’ve got no problem with someone going slowly, but that person has to keep right,” says Mr. Tootill. “You see that on [Germany’s] autobahns, where drivers really have to focus.”
Ever the contrarian, he says Canadian highway limits should be raised to speeds that most drivers would rather not reach. In this scenario, he reasons, most motorists would stick to a reasonable speed on a motorway’s right lane, assuming there was one. Left-side passing lanes would stay open, easing traffic flow and reducing the chances of an accident.
Contrary to popular belief, says Mr. Tootill, faster drivers likely would not exceed posted limits of 130 km/h or 140 km/h, because those speeds would feel plenty fast enough.
Mr. Tootill presented his case this month in Postmedia opinion pages, where he railed against what he described as the “speed is killing us” fallacy.
Speeding fines are just another cash grab by governments, he wrote. “By demonizing speed, [governments] justify tens of millions in revenue from drivers, most of whom are travelling at safe and reasonable speeds.” And for that he was widely attacked. “Smarten up and slow down,” one letter writer snapped.
University of British Columbia traffic safety expert Tarek Sayed isn’t as hostile to the need-for-speed argument; however, he noted in an email to the National Post the “several logical reasons to expect a negative impact of speed on safety. For higher speeds, stopping-sight distances and the distance travelled during the driver reaction time are greater. As well, the opportunity for skidding is increased and the energy in the moving vehicle is directly related to the square of the speed. There is also significant impact on the safety of vulnerable road users. Our research at UBC shows that both the operating speed and the speed variance increase the frequency and severity of collisions. This is also confirmed by many studies in the U.S. and Europe.”
But no one can convince Mr. Tootill. He’s not alone. Ontario-based Web designer Chris Klimek founded a like-minded group of motorists this year. It’s called Stop100.ca, and takes aim at Ontario’s paltry 100 km/h speed limit.
Mr. Klimek harkens to those faster days of local highway travel, when Ontario boasted a maximum speed limit of 70 miles per hour. Then the “energy crisis hit the United States, and Canada went metric,” he recalls. The provincial speed limit was dropped in 1976 to 100 km/h, the equivalent of 62 mph. Despite the introduction of divided highways, and safer, more fuelefficient vehicles, Ontario’s speed limit hasn’t budged. Mr. Klimek and members of his group would like to see it raised to 120 km/h on certain 400-series (multi-laned, divided) highways around Metro Toronto, and to 130 km/h on 400-series highways outside the city.
Fat chance. “There’s no contemplation in any way, shape or form to increase our speed limits,” Ontario’s Transportation Minister, Bob Chiarelli, told reporters in April, after Stop100 launched an online petition. “Speed kills.”
That’s just simplistic propaganda, says Mr. Klimek, who has no plans to slow down.