Higher highway speed limits safer: university professor

Highway speed limits should be higher, says a University of Toronto professor. Baher Abdulhai says major provincial highways would be safer if the limits were raised to 130 km/h.

Abdulhai heads the Intelligent Transportation Systems Centre at the university. He conducted a study that calculated the average traffic speeds on several highways around the Toronto area. The current limits are 100 km/h.

Abdulhai says the limits are "outdated" and should be changed to reflect newer technology.

"If the highways are straight and the geometry is favourable, then I don't see why not," says Abdulhai.

"We are not proposing higher driver speeds, we're proposing legalizing the current speeds."

Cars can now handle speeds of up to 130 km/h and improvements to highways make the current limits too cautious, Abdulhai says.

Police forces are not as enthusiastic about the report. They say drivers are already pushing the limits and raising it will only encourage them to go even faster.

"If it's 130, there are always people who are going to want to go 145 and think they're safe," says Sergeant Cam Woolley of the Ontario Provincial Police.

"The amount of energy that a vehicle develops is tremendous and when they collide at that speed with slower vehicles the results are disastrous."

According to the Canadian Automobile Association, only one per cent of drivers obey the limits. The CAA is backing the report but would like to see more studies.

Abdulhai says drivers regularly drive at speeds between 110 km/h to 130 km/h. He says raising the limit would not encourage speeding, it would just reflect current driving patterns.

He says it's not speed that kills, it's speed variation. Once the limit is boosted, drivers would stop agressive passing and weaving.

But Ontario's transport ministry isn't buying that. Officials say there are no plans to increase the speed limit on the province's highways.