An air ambulance lands on Highway 99 in South Surrey Friday morning. (Nick Greenizan photo)

Solving B.C. highway safety with speed limits not easy, UBC prof says

Engineering professor points to several factors in B.C., including weather and mountain roads

As the B.C. government moves to lower speed limits on select highways, one engineering profesor says even more can be done to reduce crashes on the province’s most notorious thoroughfares.

The NDP government announced Tuesday it would reduce certain highway speed limits back to 2014 levels, following the previous Liberal government’s move back then to increase speed limits and save lives.

“The whole intent of this safety plan was to reduce speed differentials between those who really speed and those who don’t speed so much,” said Gord Lovegrove, an engineering professor at UBC Okanagan. The idea was that if there were smaller variables between the fastest and slowest vehicles, there’d be a lower risk of collisions.

Lovegrove called it “failed experiment” in a phone interview with Black Press Media.

A study last month by a group of UBC experts, including Lovegrove, looked at crashes, deaths and insurance claims along dozens of roadways and found that the number of collisions in fact rose when the differential speed went down.

READ MORE: Speed limits being reduced on 15 B.C. highways

Former Liberal transportation minister Todd Stone defended the decision to increase speed limits, saying 16 of the 33 highways saw fewer crashes. Speed limits set along those segments will stay the same, as well as along the Coquihalla Highway between Kamloops and Hope.

As many as 50 crashes were still recorded on some highways between 2013 and 2014 – when the speed limits were at the levels the NDP re-introduced on Tuesday.

Lovegrove suggested lowering the limits even further, but he couldn’t say by how much.

Dozens of factors add to the complexity of safe travel in B.C., he added, from dynamic weather patterns to winding mountain roads.

“Reducing them beyond where they are at – you’d get people on both sides of that equation just like four years ago.”

He pointed to the 1973 oil crisis in the U.S., which led to a nationwide speed reduction of 10 miles. In most states, the decrease in speed resulted in fewer traffic deaths per year, until the legislation was reversed.

The answer could be more variable speed signs, which helped reduce crashes by 6.7 per cent since 2016, according to the province.

But Lovegrove said it’s too soon to know for sure, with experts needing at least three years worth of data.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

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