Culture shift needed to reduce speeding deaths in B.C., says planner

How do you tackle the problem of speeding cars causing collisions and deaths? It’s a question On The Coast has asked throughout its series, The Speed Factor, and it’s also a question wrestled by a Vancouver city planner and a Surrey anti-crime advocate.

'Communities have to say they’ve had enough,' says Sandy James

Police say speed may have been a factor in this crash that killed a 21-year-old man in Vancouver earlier this month. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

How do you tackle the problem of speeding cars causing collisions and deaths?

It's a question On The Coast has asked throughout its series, The Speed Factor, and it's also a question Vancouver city planner Sandy James has wrestled with.

"Communities have to say they've had enough," James told On The Coast guest host Michelle Eliot. "It's all about enforcement and education."

She said making headway requires a culture shift when it comes to speeding.

She singled out Delta as one community that has made progress when it committed to achieving "vision zero": a state where there are no traffic fatalities at all.

That emphasis from Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord has resulted in a big drop in both fatalities in vehicles and fatalities in pedestrians.

"Vision zero means every life is valuable and no one is going to die," she said.

Surrey volunteers help RCMP officers identify drivers exhibiting unsafe behaviours last September. (CBC)

'It's a privilege to be on the road'

Anti-crime advocate Karen Reid Sidhu with the Surrey Crime Prevention Society says her city, on the other hand, has seen an increase in speeding and cars hitting pedestrians.

Volunteers with her organization hold "speed watches" around school zones and areas where crashes are frequent. They watch roads and look out for unsafe drivers.

Of the 248,000 drivers observed last year, she said 21,000 were caught speeding.

"Those stats speak for themselves," she said. "It's a privilege to be on the road and we need to ... educate the drivers out there."

She thinks much of the speeding mentality comes from impatience borne of bad planning: drivers don't give themselves enough time to get somewhere and become frustrated and drive dangerously.

'People are speeding all the time'

But not everyone agrees that speed itself is a problem.

SenseBC, a volunteer group that advocates for drivers' rights, says as long as someone is speeding safely, they should be fine.

"What we are looking for is efficient and safe travel," said the group's co-founder Ian Toothill.

"I don't believe we have a culture of speed in British Columbia. We actually have relatively safe driving in B.C."

Compared to Washington state, speeds in B.C. are lower and drivers are safer, Toothill said.

James, the Vancouver planner, disagrees.

"You just have to look at Sea To Sky collisions. People are speeding all the time," she said.

Sidhu, with the Surrey Crime Prevention Society, said efficient travel does require an efficient speed but that doesn't mean a fast speed.

She said health officials and other experts have made a direct link between higher speeds and more serious, deadly crashes.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

The Speed Factor is a CBC Radio One series taking a closer look at the impact of speed on car collisions in B.C.