Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Hwy 63 Speeders - Defending the Undefendable

Here's a critical thinking question: Would reducing the speed limit to 25 km/hr on Hwy 63 and enforcing the shit out of that speed limit with zero tolerance lead to a safer highway?

I mean if its true that "Speed Kills" and "We Need More Enforcement" then it should follow that reducing the speed to near parking lot speeds and strictly enforcing this rule would lead to a safer highway right? Wrong, the data indicates that the road would actually become much more dangerous.

The reason that setting and enforcing artificially low speed limits is unsafe is because it is not congruent with rational principles. It fails to recognize the fact that most people have reasonable and prudent judgment, do not want to crash, and want to reach their destination in the shortest time possible. This is why every single driver is guilty of breaking speed limits, because they understand that they can usually safely drive faster than the speed limit and reach their destination faster. Setting up a speed limit below the speed that drivers will naturally drive at sets up a dangerous speed differential between law-abiders and everyone else.

Lets go back to the thought experiment. Imagine a person driving a naturally safe speed down Hwy 63 closing fast on a convoy of law-abiders driving the 25 km/hr speed limit down 63. Would they get impatient? Might they take risks after 10, 15, 30 minutes behind this convoy? Would it be fairer to characterize them as dangerous drivers or characterize the enforced rules as dangerous?

As a paramedic who has responded to a decades worth of carnage on this highway I am probably more motivated than the average citizen want a safer 63. It is not fun coming face to face with gruesome preventable deaths. If you've ever had to walk 100 meter stretch of highway with a flashlight and a shovel to pick up brain and skull material and place into a body bag you'll sympathize. In light of the recent tragedies on Hwy 63 there have been calls for increased enforcement of speed limits on Hwy 63 as an interim solution. I caution against rushing to this solution as it may backfire.

Consider this; from 2001 to 2005 there were 25 fatalities on Hwy 63*, then our enforcement on the Hwy increased drastically in 2006 with the advent of the Provincial Sheriff's, from 2006 to 2010 there was nearly double the fatalities at 46**. Now any good scientist will tell you that correlation is not necessarily causation, however, if fatalities doubled at the same time enforcement doubled it should give road bureaucrats pause to call for increased enforcement of speed limits. If the 100 kph speed limit is a dangerous rule then it would follow that adding enforcement to it will increase the danger and the data backs this thesis for Hwy 63.

Here are some of my recommendation about what can be done right now to make Hwy 63 a safer highway:

1) Reroute wide loads down 881 if possible and if not only send them down 63 during the lightest traffic days and prohibit them from travelling during poor visibility. The idea is to minimize speed differential by decreasing the number of vehicle exposed to these slow moving behemoths.

2) Change the speed limit to what the data and safety experts say is the safest speed, the 85th percentile***. An engineer needs to study the highway to see what speed 85 percent of people naturally drive at or below, I would predict that this would be close to 120 km/hr. This will allow law-abiders to drive at a faster naturally safe speed and keep up with the flow of traffic and again minimize speed differential.

3) Target dangerous driving instead of safe drivers. Right now its likely that the majority of enforcement activity actually targets some of the safest drivers on the road. Research indicates that those driving 10 mph below the average speed are more likely to get in an accident than those driving 5-10 mph above the average speed****.  So if we reasonably assume the 85th percentile speed is 120 km/hr then those travelling at 130 km/hr are among the safest drivers on the road. Dangerous driving involves activities that threaten the rapid deceleration of another vehicle (note its deceleration not speed per se that kills), things like crossing into oncoming traffic, swerving around erratically, driving 30-40 km/hr below the flow of traffic**** etc.

As a community we are understanably angry right now. Post-traumatic anger is blind and dangerous, just ask 1 million dead Iraqi's who paid the price for America's post-911 anger. Our instinct is to project our anger onto the 'other', in this case the crazy asshole driver, instead of learning about our anger. This will result in more deaths. Obviously twinning the highway will drastically improve safety. I can think of few fatal accidents that I've attended on Hwy 63 that were not caused by collisions with oncoming traffic, roll overs and ditch spin-outs tend to be far less fatal events. Until the twinning happens we can apply the light of reason, evidence and rationality to make Hwy 63 a calmer and safer environment for motorists.


1 comment:

  1. THANK YOU for talking sense! I heard a doctor suggest this morning that we reduce the speed limit to 70km/hr and I actually yelled at the radio. All I could think of was taking my 3 young children down the highway with no clean, maintained toilets for 200 km going 70 km/hr while still being passed by people going what I would consider a reasonable speed.

    I've driven this highway for years. I've had one speeding ticket for going 113 km/hr. I do not believe I'm the danger on the road. It's the guys who are passing when they shouldn't and causing the oncoming traffic to pull over to the shoulder to avoid an accident (this happened to me 3 times in one trip recently. THREE TIMES!) or the oversized loads going 50 km/hr. It's not those going 120 km/hr.

    63 is a long, boring drive with no services available to those who are driving it. It is unrealistic and unfair to reasonable drivers to slow the highway down. Reducing the limit will not slow down those that need to be slowed down, it will only serve to isolate Fort McMurrayites more by increasing our travel time.