London

Higher speed limits in pilot project aren't being abused: OPP

While there are no statistics to confirm it, provincial police say there’s been no noticeable change in driving behavior since the speed limit increased to 110 kilometres an hour in a pilot project on portions of three Ontario highways that began in late September.

OPP officials say they haven’t issued more tickets for speeding or seen more collisions

(Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

While there are no statistics to confirm it, provincial police say there's been no noticeable change in driving behavior since the speed limit increased to 110 km/hr in a pilot project that began in late September on portions of three Ontario highways.

The province is running the pilot on Highway 402 between London and Sarnia, on the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) between St. Catharines and Hamilton, and on Highway 417 between Ottawa and the Quebec border.

"Quite frankly, we haven't noticed a significant increase in speed. We haven't laid more tickets, and traffic collisions have not increased year over year, but it's early in the season and early in the test period," said Insp. Shawn Johnson, regional traffic manager for OPP's West Region in southwestern Ontario.

Johnson said the OPP in this region have not stepped up enforcement on Hwy. 402, though they are monitoring speeding as they always do.

"There are analytical systems in place (for monitoring the number of tickets issued). The problem is it's (in the early phase of the pilot).  It takes a while for the analytics to be able to catch up."

So far, he and his officers are not noticing any significant increase in vehicle speeds, Johnson said.

"Last week, I was out in an unmarked car travelling 402 and kind of monitoring the traffic flow. And interestingly, I found people still travelling in the 100, 105, to 115 range. Many of them were not even exceeding the 115 to 120 range."

Johnson says he thinks motorists are driving at speeds they're comfortable with. And he disputes suggestions by some observers that a higher speed limit gives some drivers license to go even faster.

Changing the speed limit to 110 km/hr on major highways is being tested in a pilot project by the provincial government. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

"There's a noticeable difference when you're driving a vehicle from 110 to 130. Things are passing you by quicker. I'm not just not so sure (the public will drive faster than the limit)."

As for the stretch of the QEW between Hamilton and St. Catharines, OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt says there have also been no serious crashes. 

"So far, it hasn't been bad at all. We've had officers out there, patrolling the area, like they patrol all the areas, and I think from their perception ... they do feel speeds have increased slightly." 

Winter conditions a concern

Johnson has one concern: the onset of winter weather. The 402 between London and Sarnia has a reputation for being troublesome in the winter due to frequent snow squalls creating slick road conditions and treacherous visibility.

The OPP is frequently concerned about drivers failing to adjust their speeds in bad weather. But Johnson says having a higher speed limit shouldn't make a difference if people are driving responsibly.

"Whether or not the speed limit is 100 or 110 or 80, it's not necessarily the maximum speed limit, it's the driver's capability and drivers driving appropriately for the road and weather conditions."

The province says the goal behind increasing highway speeds is to improve traffic flow. But Ahmed Shalaby, a traffic engineering expert at the University of Manitoba, says it should be about increasing safety.

And he thinks new safety features on cars will ensure that drivers stick to the speed limit.

"You'll be able to override the speed limit and go higher but sooner or later this information will be supplied to the insurance (companies) and someone may be considered an aggressive driver."

Shalaby says the age of driving freely on the open highway is gradually coming to an end.

The province is asking for driver's feedback on higher speeds in a survey that closes next month.

       

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Ennett

Morning News Editor

Gary Ennett is a veteran editor and reporter. He’s been with CBC since the opening of the London bureau in 1998. His email address is gary.ennett@cbc.ca

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