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

PHOTOS: Luxton Fall Fair a hit on the West Shore

Hundreds gather for the family-friendly annual event

Serious crash closes Saanich intersection

Police are asking people to avoid the intersection at Cumberland and Union roads

Child psychologist will speak to SD62 staff about challenging behaviours

Author of The Explosive Child and Lost at School will speak on Sept. 23 in Colwood

Man equipped with bear spray, tools caught in Oak Bay laundry room

Prolific offender arrested after allegedly breaking into apartment building

VIDEO: Liberals make child care pledge, Greens unveil platform on Day 6 of campaign

Green party leader Elizabeth May unveils her party’s platform in Toronto

Free Tesla 3 offered with purchase of Surrey townhome

Century Group’s offer for Viridian development runs through Oct. 31

B.C. communities urged to improve access for disabled people

One in four B.C. residents has disability, most want to work

Sikh millworker lodges human rights complaint against Interfor, again

Mander Sohal, fired from Delta’s Acorn Mill, alleges discrimination based on religion and disability

Safety concerns resurface after fatal bus crash on Vancouver Island

Huu-ay-aht First Nations wants a safe route between Bamfield and Port Alberni

National weather forecasters predict average fall, cold winter

The Weather Network says precipitation will about average in most parts of Canada

Two dead, two in critical condition in highway crash near Campbell River

Highway 19 reopened Sunday night after it was closed in both directions

VIDEO: Vancouver Island mayor details emergency response after fatal bus crash

Sharie Minions says she is ‘appalled’ by condition of road where bus crashed

Scheer makes quick campaign stop in Comox

Conservative leader highlights tax promises early in campaign

Most Read