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Is speed killing us?

Speed variance and crash risk
This graph shows that crash risk is minimized for those drivers travelling 10-15 km/h over the average speed. (Average speeds in BC are almost always over posted speeds.) Contrary to popular belief, there are more crashes at slower speeds than at faster speeds.
Raw speed and crash risk are not directly related, however, there is a U-shaped relationship which shows few fast drivers involved in crashes, and many more slow drivers involved in crashes.1
Photo radar and BC speed limits target safe drivers
Under current BC speed limits, safe drivers are included within the red enforcement zone (the fastest 15% of vehicles). Speed enforcement should only target the top 2-5%.
Enforcement tolerances set by police are often incorrect and result in even lower tolerances.2
Proper speed limits increase safety
Setting speed limits according to the standards of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (the 85th percentile method) will...
* focus enforcement on dangerous drivers, not revenue collection
* increase speed limit compliance
* provide greater consistency of speed limits
* reduce speed variance resulting in reduced crashes
The 85th percentile is the speed to which 85 percent of drivers travel below (under average, free-flow conditions).
Money is the motivator...
In the United States, just two speeding tickets can increase your insurance premiums by 50%! In BC, the penalty points from two speeding tickets will cost you $300.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a powerful lobby group funded by the US insurance industry, has been the chief opponent of moves to raise speed limits.

Insurance companies in the US (and ICBC in BC) frequently purchase radar and laser guns for police forces to issue more speeding tickets.

When the US Congress allowed states to increase their maximum speed limits in December 1995, the insurance/safety lobby protested that these moves would result in horrific carnage -- 6,400 more fatalities each year (a 15% increase). Actual fatalities and injuries fell, despite significant increases in total miles travelled and small increases in average speeds! (Source: NHTSA-NCSA)
Insurance rates have been falling in the United States despite increased speed limits starting December 1996. ICBC promotes "frozen rates" when they should explain why there are no rate reductions!
According to a 1995 BCAA Angus Reid poll:

"over one-half of members (57%) feel slow moving vehicles are more of a safety hazard than fast-moving ones,"

"...posted speed limits don't mean much (54%)"
"...and only a few staunch members (9%) think that any speed over the posted speed limit qualifies as speeding." [as the Motor Vehicle Act defines speeding'!]
Downward trends saving lives, not photo radar
This graph shows that total fatalities in both BC and Canada have been cut almost in half since the late 1970's.3 Our recent declining fatalities -- that are being attributed to photo radar -- are simply an extension of this trend magnified by our poor economy.
Many factors have been reducing crashes: better cars (air bags, anti-lock brakes, seat belts, etc.), better road design and signage, reduced drinking, etc.
A poor economy is well known to reduce crashes. Fewer high-risk new drivers (they don't have jobs and can't afford cars or gas), lower employment-related driving, less vacations (reducing average occupants in vehicles), and other factors substantially reduce total kilometers driven. Note the big drops in the above graph during the recession of the early 1980's.
Coroner's motor vehicle fatalities show photo radar having no discernible effect
Photo radar was originally promoted to "save 50" lives in the first year. Based upon original government, ICBC, and media speculation, one would have expected the post-photo radar (green) area to show an immediate drop. The only change appears to be a stalling of the short-term downward trend which started in 1994-1995.4
In 1996, BC's injury rate was 38% higher than the national average, but our fatality rate stands at the national average5. ICBC claims we have a speeding problem...

Speed/severity is certainly not the key problem -- just bad drivers, bad roads, bad policies...

ICBC claims that 40% of fatalities are "caused by speeding" here are some facts...
Few crashes are the result of one factor. Speed-related crashes are frequently the result of criminal6 and/or extreme anti-social behaviour or are related to road conditions and occur below the speed limit7. In both cases, photo radar is of no value in prevention or punishment.
BC police accident reports have only one speed category: Unsafe Speed. The resulting statistics do not differentiate between crashes at 160 km/h and those at 55 km/h on black ice in a zone posted 80 km/h -- two very different types of crashes.
The claim that speeding causes 40% of fatalities is simply unsupportable by the facts.
ICBC manufactures "studies" to show that {more speeding tickets = more crashes}. The truth is {more driving = more tickets, and more driving = greater probability of crashes}. Despite shoddy media reporting, these studies imply, but do not show a correlation between tickets and at-fault crashes. What do police cite as the number 1 cause of fatalities on the Coquihalla highway (one of only two BC highways posted at 110 km/h)?
a) wild animals
b) alcohol
c) speed
d) weather
e) fatigue
Answer: fatigue.

Looking for more information? Check out...
...on automated enforcement Our position on automated traffic enforcement.
the facts behind the spin Is the government making accurate claims in support of photo radar?
cost effective? ha! What is photo radar really costing taxpayers?
detailed research 17 pages which discuss various related issues, many with footnoted research.
what is wrong with photo radar? A list of reasons why people support SENSE and oppose photo radar.
do they truly represent their members? Do they truly represent their members?

References and Footnotes

  1. Sources (partial list):
  2. See also Truth in Advertising.
  3. Canadian fatalities obtained from Transport Canada "Fatalities 1978-1997" and 1998 preliminary fatalities statistics; BC fatalities (1982 to 1995) obtained from 1995 Traffic Collision Statistics (BC: Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, Research Services); BC fatalities (1977 to 1981) obtained verbally from Research Services, Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, and BC fatalities (1996 to 1998) interpolated from Transport Canada and Coroners data.
  4. BC monthly motor vehicle fatalities based on data obtained on August 10, 1999, from the BC Office of the Chief Coroner. 12-month moving average, annual totals, and change from previous year shown.
  5. Source: Transport Canada 1996 Casualty Rates
  6. Data contained within study by William Mercer. An Estimation of the Presence of Alcohol and Drugs in Traffic Accidents in British Columbia. Ministry of Attorney General, British Columbia. (December 1994).
  7. Sources: Transport Canada Traffic Collision Statistics in Canada, 1992 (not available on-line); and other US publications.

 Rev: 2001.06.22 contact SENSEtext map of SENSE web siteback to SENSE home pageback to top of this page