Photo from Jeff Scott.
The Ontario Government is going to raise the speed limit on our freeways from 100 km/h to 110. At first, this sounded to me like a “buck-a-beer” move by Premier Ford to stoke support among his populist supporters. This is not what is actually happening. The Ministry of Transportation is taking a cautious approach to this matter in a typical Ontario way. They are planning to do a test run on three sections of highway that have little traffic, no hills, no curves, and which are the most boring stretches of highway that I know. Taking time to do a study is a very wise thing indeed — British Columbia raised its speed limits to 120 km/h on 33 sections of highway back in 2014, and then had to lower those limits on many sections after fatal crashes more than doubled!
Ontario’s 400 series highways are just about the safest roads in North America. They are well-designed and very well-built. They are already able to safely allow drivers to travel at 120 km/h without major problems. In fact, 85 per cent of drivers are already doing this speed on a regular basis. There are many regions in North America already that have speed limits as high as 110 and higher, so this is hardly a novel approach. Ontario may be, in fact, a bit too cautious.
Don’t expect to see speed limits increased across the entire 400 series freeways any time soon though. Even if the studied areas can have their speeds increased, there are still serious problems to overcome on the busier sections of highway. The 401 section of highway through Toronto has 16 lanes of traffic, which carry over 400,000 vehicles per day! This section is definitely the busiest section of highway in North America, and as far as I can find out, it is the busiest section of highway in the world. I have never been able to drive through Toronto at any time doing a speed over 100 km/h per hour. Most times I have driven much slower, and often been at a dead stop.
Our highways are so busy that our police are finding it very difficult to enforce speed limits, let alone all of the other traffic violations that regularly occur. The OPP charged 67 drivers with street racing in one week in the Toronto area. Young and aggressive drivers weaving in and out of traffic, or racing back from Wasaga Beach, are already causing serious accidents with families heading back from the cottage. Ontario drivers are nowhere near as trained or as skilled as they should be about driving. Often there are cars puttering along in the fast lane that won’t pull over for approaching cars. Then there are other cars that pass at full speed in the slow lane, and there are the tailgating cars intimidating others into getting out of their lane.
Ontario also has notoriously bad weather. This has a serious impact on our road conditions, and is the cause of many horrible accidents. Thunderstorms appear quickly and dump torrential rains, while winter storms dump huge volumes of snow, obscuring a driver’s vision during whiteouts. Freezing air and asphalt can cause rain to freeze, turning freeways into skating rinks instantly. All of these factors make it unsafe to drive, even at the present speed limit, and definitely not safe at the proposed limit.
Transports are just as common on our freeways as cars, and they do not often interact very well. The transports have limiters that do not enable the vehicle to go faster than 105 km/h. It is difficult enough to drive a big vehicle at the best of times, and this is going to become more difficult when cars go zipping around them at higher speeds. Collisions are likely to increase, and there will be more fatalities and serious injuries because of these types of accidents.
It looks like speed limits are going to increase on Ontario’s freeways, but there will be many sections where they won’t. In order to make these increased speeds work, there is going to have to be better training of drivers. There is also going to have to be an increase of and better support for policing of the speed limits and other traffic violations. Let’s hope that common sense prevails, and that people can still safely drive on our incredible highways.
Jeff Scott is a former councillor for the City of Kingston (Countryside District), and has contributed editorial content local publications for a number of years. He continues to live, work and write in the Countryside district of Kingston, and runs his own blog, The Countryside View. Visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jeffscottthecountrysideview to read more of Jeff’s content.