British Columbia

Fatal crashes more than doubled on B.C. roads with higher speed limits, study says

Study suggests the number of fatal crashes jumped by 118 per cent, injury claims with ICBC rose by 30 per cent and total insurance claims went up by 43 per cent.

UBC researchers call on province to roll back 120 km/h speed limits on 1,300 km of roads

Twenty-nine people were hurt in a crash on the Coquihalla in February. (Shane MacKichan)

New research from doctors and engineers at the University of B.C. suggests the number of fatal crashes has doubled on highways where the speed limit has been hiked in recent years.

The study, published in the journal Sustainability, looked at crash and insurance claim data from the 1,300-kilometre stretches of highway where the speed limit was raised to 120 kilometres per hour in 2014.

It suggests the number of fatal crashes jumped by 118 per cent, injury claims with ICBC rose by 30 per cent and total insurance claims went up by 43 per cent.

"Even adjusting for confounding factors like a general increase in traffic volumes, we've seen these numbers go up," said Gordon Lovegrove, professor in sustainable transportation safety at UBC Okanagan and one of the authors of the study.

He and his co-authors have been monitoring the impact of the higher speed limits since they were implemented. They say they've only found limited evidence that highways are becoming more dangerous in the rest of B.C. where speed limits were not rolled back — including a 4.8-per-cent increase in injury claims provincewide.

A map shows fatal crashes on affected highways in the year before and the year after speed limits were raised to 120 km/h. (Sustainability)

Now, they're calling for all of the speed limit increases to be rolled back.

"Action needs to be taken," Lovegrove said.

B.C. roads are 'particularly hazardous'

The huge spike in traffic deaths is much larger than in other areas where speed limits have been increased, according to the study, but the authors suggest that difference might be related to B.C.'s unique geography and weather.

"Travel in rural B.C. is particularly hazardous because of a harsh winter climate, mountainous terrain causing curvilinear alignments, fewer roundabouts (which reduce risk of side impact collisions), and the fact that large regions of the province are remote, with limited access to post-crash trauma care," the paper says.

According to a statement from the transportation ministry, the increased speed limits were originally implemented "based on a careful and thorough engineering assessment using speed zoning practices recommended by the Institute of Transportation Engineers and adopted by road authorities throughout North America."

But after a 2016 review of one year of data on crashes, the province rolled back speed limits on two sections of road: Highway 1 from Hope to Cache Creek and on Highway 5A from Princeton to Merritt.

At the time, the ministry said 14 of the 33 highway segments where speed limits were raised showed an increase in collision rates.

The province said it's now started an analysis of the last three years of crash data to determine the next steps.

"Based on the results of this analysis, the ministry will consider all options for each of the 33 sections where speed limits were increased, including a potential reduction where appropriate," a ministry spokesperson said in an email.