How Slow Can You Go?

When you’re out for a typical drive, how fast do you travel? Under the speed limit? At the speed limit? Or over the speed limit? I’d venture to guess that most Ontarians would choose the latter, especially for those who drive on the provincial and 400 series highways.

So, if most of us are already driving over the speed limit, why doesn’t the government recognize that fact and increase the maximums? Crazy talk, you say? Not at all.

According to an editorial in the July 21st edition of Maclean’s magazine, that’s exactly what’s happening in British Columbia. The story explains that the province’s Transportation and Infrastructure Minister recently announced a wide range of changes to B.C.’s highways, including raising the speed limit on dozens of them.

Maximums are being bumped up by as much as 20 km/h on certain highways, with some limits jumping to 120 km/h, the highest in Canada. The article notes that the increases have been opposed by several groups, including the RCMP, the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police and environmental agencies. Their reasons include everything from safety issues to environmental concerns.

However, according to the article, “In truth, there should be no appreciable impact on safety or the environment. The changes will simply allow people to get where they’re going in a lawful and timely manner.”

Maclean’s says there is plenty of evidence showing that most people’s speed is a reflection of driving conditions and road characteristics, not posted limits. As well, contrary to what you might think, “Raising limits doesn’t produce faster average speeds; it merely makes lawful what is already common behaviour.”

The article goes on to say that it isn’t the speed itself that causes accidents – it’s the difference between the fastest and slowest drivers. “A large gap between drivers’ speeds is most often found in situations with artificially low speed limits and this can lead to dangerous passing attempts, unpredictable behaviour and driver frustration: all of which most certainly cause collisions.”

As proof, the story notes that the last time B.C. raised its speed limits in 1997 serious collisions dropped by 18 percent over the next five years, despite traffic volumes increasing by about one-third during the same period.

In deciding to raise the limits again this year, the B.C. government used a background report that states, “Speed limits should be set so that they include the behaviour of the majority of drivers and provide an appropriate maximum speed.”

The guideline used to determine the new limits is the typical speed travelled by 85% of those using the highway. By that measure, it’s pretty obvious that speed limits in Ontario are completely out of whack.

In fact, transport trucks in this province are mechanically limited to a maximum speed of 110 km/h – ten clicks over the actual speed limit on the 400 series highways. And, unless I’m totally oblivious to everyone around me on the 401 or 402, most of the passenger vehicles are already driving faster than those transports.        So, what is the province accomplishing by keeping the limits artificially low?

The Maclean’s article says the changes in B.C. will allow law enforcers to put their efforts into combatting the truly reckless drivers amongst us and, thereby, making the roads safer for everyone: “The moves should free police to focus their efforts on stopping the 15 percent of drivers who exceed accepted norms and behave in ways that are obviously dangerous to themselves and others: driving drunk, distracted driving, racing, etc.”

British Columbia and Maclean’s magazine are certainly not the only two proponents of an increased speed limit. A website called http://www.stop100.ca advocates increasing maximums to between 120 and 130 km/h on Ontario’s 400 series highways. More than 28,000 people have signed a petition on the website supporting the increase.

The Stop100 site includes editorials from several sources to back up their fight, including The Globe and Mail and The National Post, along with lots of information on various studies that support an increase in speed limits.

The website also notes that 120-130 km/h speed limits exist in more than 60 countries and states worldwide – and that many countries with higher speed limits have lower or similar fatality rates to Ontario.

What are your thoughts? Do you routinely exceed the speed limit, especially on 400 series highways? If so, do you believe you’re guilty of breaking the law and should be punished for doing so – along with the large percentage of other drivers who also typically exceed the maximum? Or do you think it’s time Ontario re-examines a policy that is constantly ignored by most of its drivers? Equally important, how do we drive home that point with our provincial government?

Slip Slidin’ Away

If you’re searching for some sure signs that the official start of winter is near, you don’t have to look far. Cars in the ditch. Fender benders. Rolled over transport trucks on the 402. And repeated warnings from the OPP to “Slow Down!” Every year it’s like déjà vu all over again. Is there something about humans that immediately erases our memories at the end of every previous winter, causing us to have to re-learn the most basic rules of winter driving?

If you’re looking for another sure sign that snowy weather is here for another year, it’s the sudden appearance of all those lists of safe driving tips. You know what I’m talking about: “15 Ways To Beat Old Man Winter,” “Top Secrets Of Being An Awesomely Amazing Snow Driver,” and “Everything You Need To Know To Survive Winter Roads.”

They’re all the things you routinely ignore because you’ve heard them all before. Trust me – that’s what I do. I’ve been driving in winter for more years than I care to remember, so who’s going to tell me how to improve my driving skills? Not you – Mr. Listy McListmaker!

Having said that, a couple of days ago I saw a message from the Ontario government about a two-minute YouTube video they posted a few weeks ago called, “Top 10 Tips to Prep for Winter Driving”. Yawn. So, preparing to be bored out of my skull and scoff at all the things I already know, I watched.

And, you know, a funny thing happened. Even though most of the information was pretty basic and something I’ve likely learned at some point in my life, I also realized that, over the years, I’ve managed to abandon almost all the things they mention in the video. And I bet that many of you have, as well. (If you’d like to watch it yourself, type the above name for the video into the YouTube search bar and VOILA!).

For instance, they tell you to clear all the snow from your windows, mirrors, lights and roof. Like me, I imagine you routinely forget to do at least one of those (probably your lights) and, by doing so, you add risk to your own driving and everyone else on the road. Or, how about starting your car and waiting for your windows to clear before you start driving?

Here’s one I bet nobody does: “Wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t restrict your movement when you’re behind the wheel.” I usually get to that about half an hour into my trip and, typically, I don’t even pull over to take my coat off – I’ll just do it while I’m driving. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

The video also includes two places to get provincial highway conditions before you leave for your trip: Ontario.ca/trip on the web or “511” on your phone. As well, it also gives you a non-emergency number for the OPP Provincial Communications Centre (1-888-310-1122) that you can call anytime to get assistance when you’re travelling.

The video also urges you to pack a winter survival kit (yep, I don’t have one of those either!) that includes items such as a flashlight, small shovel, blankets, extra clothing, winter boots, non-perishable energy foods, a candle (for heat) and matches.

If you become stranded, don’t panic. Check to make sure your exhaust pipe is clear of drifting snow before running your engine and open your window slightly for fresh air. And stay in your vehicle for safety and warmth.

Gas up before you go. Not only will you have plenty of fuel to get you to your destination if the driving is slow and allow you to run the vehicle longer should you be stranded, the extra weight will also give you more stability on bad roads and prevent moisture problems in your fuel system.

Finally, keep your cool. As the video cautions, “Shortcuts in winter weather ultimately won’t get you there any faster.” Perhaps that’s the best advice of all – and something that so many of us fail to heed.

We rush to leave for our destination without checking ahead or properly clearing our vehicle. We don’t allow ourselves the extra time we need to get where we’re going – so we drive faster than we should. We don’t consider the best way to get where we’re going – just the fastest. And we don’t plan ahead – which is the entire message the video is trying to deliver.

So, for those of you who’ve made it this far in your reading, congratulations! Even if you know about and practice everything I’ve written above, it never hurts to be reminded one more time. I’m off to prepare my winter survival kit right now and, if you haven’t got one of your own, I hope you’ll do the same. Stay safe and, like the video says, keep your cool.