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Go slower! Researchers want increased speed limits in BC rolled back

Last Updated Oct 10, 2018 at 2:59 pm PDT

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Study suggests number of deadly crashes on BC highways more than doubled after speed limits were raised in 2014

30% increase in injuries and 43% jump in insurance claims on highways, finds study

But an advocate with SenseBC says the spike in crashes might be because of weather conditions, not excessive speed

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Slow down! That’s the message from researchers who want the province to claw back increases to speed limits on some BC highways.

The reason?

They found the number of fatal crashes more than doubled — up 118 per cent — on highways after speed limits were raised to as high as 120 km/h in 2014.

A study, published in the journal Sustainability, also found a 30 per cent increase in injuries and a 43 per cent jump in insurance claims on those stretches.

“Following the increase in rural highway speed limits in British Columbia, there was a marked deterioration in road safety on the affected roads,” reads the study, which was led by VGH ER doctor Jeff Brubacher and a team of UBC road safety engineers.

“The speed limit increases generated vigorous public debate, with pro speed advocates claiming, for example, that slower drivers were as dangerous as speeding drivers,” it continues.

“Most research shows that raising speed limits results in more injuries. Advocates of higher speed limits argue that this conclusion is based on older research, that traffic fatalities are decreasing despite higher speed limits, and that modern vehicles are able to safely travel at higher speeds.”

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But Chris Thompson with SenseBC says there are some issues with how this study can be interpreted.

One issue, he says, is that areas that saw an increase in speed didn’t have speed limits go up.

He also says it doesn’t account for how weather can impact road conditions.

“Whenever you get segments of roads that all the sudden now have five times the amount of rain and snow on them, of course you’re going to get increases in crashes,” he says. “If you don’t take that into account, and something else happened in 2014, you could falsely blame what happens in 2014 – and in this case it happens to be a speed limit increase.”

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He says by looking at the data in this study, there’s some indication that this might be what happened.

“When you look at the affected speed data, it looks like speeds increased more, as I said before, on the roads where the speed limits weren’t increased,” he said. “So it isn’t the speed that caused these increases in crashes.”

This new study, however, recommends that future speed limits in BC should be set in accordance with a “safe systems approach” and not based on the 85th percentile of summer travel speed.