Should Canada adopt faster speed limits?

A speedometer inside a car.
A speedometer inside a car. Stock image from iPhoto/Getty Images.

To increase speed limits or not to increase speed limits, that is the question.

CBC Marketplace conducted an investigation and looked at the busiest highways in Canada and their speed patterns. The highway examined by Marketplace was the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway – or the 401, as drivers better know it.

Surprise, surprise, Marketplace found that three out of four drivers on the 401 were speeding, and considering the speed limit is only 100 km/h, is it really that surprising?

On average, 100 km/h is a pretty slow speed limit, and Ontario has one of the slowest speed limits in Canada, only beat by Prince Edward Island, which has a speed limit of 90 km/h.

Looking at other countries, Canadian highways are quite slow, not only in comparison with the United States, which has speed limits ranging from 97 km/h to 137 km/h, but also in comparison with Europe, where the common speed limit on highways is usually 130 km/h.

Though some provinces like Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have raised their speed limits to 110 km/h, we are still falling behind our American and European counterparts.

It has been reported that the worst gridlock on roads in Canada occurs in these cities:

  • Vancouver – 87 hours of delays per year;
  • Toronto – 83 hours of delays per year;
  • Ottawa – 81 hours of delays per year;
  • Quebec – 81 hours of delays per year;
  • Montreal – 78 hours of delays per year;
  • Calgary – 71 hours of delays per year;
  • Edmonton – 57 hours of delays per year.

Looking at the extreme gridlock we have in Canadian cities, wouldn’t the problem be somewhat lessened if we raised speed limits?

Let’s cast an eye to Germany - where the majority of highways don’t even have a speed limit – and people travel at very high speeds.

Of course, Germany suffers from gridlock as well, but does it suffer from gridlock to the extent Canada does?

Looking at the most congested cities in Germany, their gridlock looks like this:

  • Ruhrgebiet: drivers waste 51 hours per year;
  • Hamburg: drivers waste 44 hours per year;
  • Berlin: drivers waste 35 hours per year;
  • Frankfurt am Main: drivers waste 47 hours per year;
  • Cologne: drivers waste 57 hours per year;
  • Munich: drivers waste 35 hours per year;
  • Düsseldorf: drivers waste 46 hours per year.

What about accident fatalities per year?

Transport Canada reported in the Canadian Motor Vehicle Traffic Collision Statistics that in 2010 Canada had 834 traffic fatalities in urban areas, whereas in Germany, the number of fatalities on motorways was 475 in 2009.

Given the numbers, both for gridlock and accident fatalities are less in Germany, we need to really examine whether higher speed limits would truly make a difference in Canada.

B.C. has already raised its speed-limit to 120 km/h last year, but so far drivers in the province haven’t really changed their driving behaviour and statistics on whether raised the limit have resulted in more or less fatalities haven’t been released yet. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

What about the safety debate? While some experts say increasing speed limits causes more fatalities, other experts say it causes fewer fatalities.

Then there is the weather factor. Germany’s winters are nowhere near as harsh as Canada’s. Our weather pattern can see anything from temperatures dropping to -20 to snow, hail and ice on the roads – sometimes in the same day.

But wait, and hold on to your hats, because it has been found that more accidents occur in the summer in Canada than in winter.

Let’s face it. The trend in speed limits is to increase them due to increasing gridlock, as slower speed limits can impede ever-increasing traffic. Maybe it’s time Canada caught up to the trend.

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