A multi-vehicle crash on the Coquihalla sent 29 people to hospital in February 2018. Image: Facebook/Hope Volunteer Search and Rescue

Speed limit hikes caused more fatalities on B.C. highways: Study

A new study from UBC says the increased rural highway speed limits in British Columbia led to more deaths on our roads.

B.C. highways are more dangerous than ever before, according to a new study from UBC.

Speed limit increases put into place in 2014 by the former B.C. government led to an increase in fatalities, injuries, crashes and insurance claims on some B.C. roads, according to the study. Study authors say speed limits should be rolled back to at least 2014 speed levels.

Advocates of higher speed limits have argued that traffic fatalities are decreasing despite higher speed limits, and that modern vehicles are able to safely travel at higher speeds, however this study’s findings paint a different picture.

Following the increase in rural highway speed limits in British Columbia, researchers say there was a marked deterioration in road safety on the affected roads.

“The number of fatal crashes more than doubled (118 per cent increase) on roads with higher speed limits. Affected roads also had a 43 per cent increase in total auto-insurance claims and a 30 per cent increase in auto-insurance claims for injuries due to crashes,” reads the study led by Vancouver General Hospital emergency room physician Dr. Jeff Brubacher, and co-authors including road safety engineers in Kelowna at the UBC Okanagan campus.

Graphic from the Road Safety Impact of Increased Rural Highway Speed Limits in British Columbia, Canada study

Speed limits on 1,300 kilometres of rural provincial highways were raised in July 2014. A maximum speed of 120 kilometres per hour was instituted.

Researchers state that higher speed means more severe injury in the event of a crash, regardless of the cause.

“Furthermore, higher travel speeds make the task of driving more difficult, because drivers must perceive, interpret, and respond to relevant stimuli at a faster rate,” reads the study. “In complex driving environments, this may overwhelm a driver’s perceptual or cognitive capacity, resulting in failure to recognize or respond to hazards.”

A Nilsson study done in 1982 in Sweden found numbers that support this.

According to the Nilsson model, a five per cent increase in mean traffic speed (e.g., from 100 to 105 km/h), would result in a 22 per cent increase in fatal crashes.

“The speed limit increases generated vigorous public debate, with pro speed advocates claiming, for example, that slower drivers were as dangerous as speeding drivers. There was concern that this “pro-speed rhetoric” would result in increased travel speed and more crashes across the province. Fortunately, there was only limited evidence of worsening road safety at a provincial level. We did find a 4.8 per cent increase in auto-insurance claims for injuries due to crashes at a provincial level, but no significant worsening in other crash indicators,” concludes the report.

“Based on our findings, we recommend that British Columbia roll back the 2014 speed limit increases.”

Further to that, the study’s authors suggest speed limits be set even slower than the 2014 levels in areas with adverse driving conditions.

“Other jurisdictions, especially those with harsh winter climates or with highways that traverse mountainous terrain, should learn from this experience and resist pressure from pro speed advocates to raise speed limits without due consideration of road safety.”

The research was based on BC data from police reports (2000–2015), automobile insurance claims (2000–2016), ambulance call dispatches (2004–2016), gasoline sales (2009–2016) and vehicle speed travel data from permanent count stations (2005–2016).

Related: Coquihalla fully reopen after crashes send 29 to hospital

Related: Semi destroyed in violent crash on Coquihalla

Related: One driver killed, Coquihalla partially reopens northbound

Related: Woman’s body discovered in ditch near Coquihalla Highway

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