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The Ontario government announced on March 29, 2022 that it will be changing speed limits of 110 km/hr on six sections of provincial highways. With the news of the speed limit changes being made permanent on April 22, the debate over relevance heats up. Will this change be a step in the right direction? Do they make much of a difference to the average Ontario driver? Let’s unpack this complicated issue.

Government pilot project announced 

The pilot project was launched in 2019 to test higher speeds on a trial basis. Each highway was carefully selected based on their ability to accommodate higher speeds. Ontario Transportation Minister Carolyn Mulroney made the announcement that the speed limit changes would become permanent on April 22, 2022.

Six sections of Ontario highways where 110 km/h speed limits will be made permanent:

  • Queen Elizabeth Way – from Hamilton to St. Catharines
  • Highway 401 – from Windsor to Tilbury
  • The 402 Highway – from London to Sarnia
  • Highway 404 – Newmarket to Woodbine
  • Highway 417 – from Ottawa to the Quebec border
  • The 417 Highway – from Kanata to Arnpior

Two years ago, the government said 80% of responses to a survey about the pilot project supported it. Citynews.ca reports that two sections of provincial highways in cottage country will see speed limits increase on a trial basis. The province will boost speeds to 110 kilometres per hour on Highway 400, from Mactier to Nobel. Highway 11, from Emsdale to South River, will also see an increase.

Moving forward?

Advocates of higher speed limits say these moves are a step in the right direction. The argument is that a highway speed limit that is too low could make the roads more dangerous. The government says the six sections of highway that have seen 110 kilometre per hour speed limits since 2019 have comparable speeds and collision trends to similar highway sections with limits of 100 kilometres an hour. Minister Mulroney says there hasn’t been a bump in accidents during the pilot period. She explained, “…there was no impact, no increase in collisions, so we believe that what we’re doing is responsible. We can increase speed limits in a safe manner.”

Is the increase not enough?

Critics argue that having too low of a speed limit creates more variation in speeds among drivers. Most drivers will have to change lanes more often to avoid drivers who adhere to the 100 km/h maximum. Some argue that speed limits should be set at the 85th percentile speed. This is the speed at which 85 per cent of drivers are at or below. Highway speed limits around the world tend to be much higher than in Canada. Most U.S. states have set their highway speed limits at around 112 to 120 km/hr. One highway in Texas has a speed limit of 137 km/h! Furthermore, many Europe expressways have speed limits of around 120-130 km/h. However, much of the German autobahn has no speed limit.

Critics of the pilot project, notably the founder of Stop100.ca, Chris Klimek, says the move is what Ontario should’ve done “at the very least”. He says he’s disappointed that only some highways are getting speed limit increases. Notably, provincial highways around Toronto are being excluded from this measure. Minister Mulroney has been quoted in response to criticism of the project. She says, “We will certainly explore extending it to other sections of highways across the province”.

Is it too much?

Other studies suggest that higher speed limits can result in more injuries and collisions. Back in 2014, B.C. raised the speed limit up to 120 km/h on several highways. In 2018, the University of British Columbia published a study that found the number of fatal crashes doubled on roads with higher speed limits.

The roads with higher speed limits also saw a 43 percent increase in auto insurance claims. Additionally, there was a 30 percent increase in claims for injuries from crashes. After the study was published, the B.C. government lowered speed limits on some of the affected highways.

A step in the right direction?

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) revealed statistics last week that disclosed speeding and aggressive driving deaths in the province reached a decade-high in 2021. OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt says 81 people lost their lives in speed-related incidents on Ontario highways last year. There were 315 total deaths on Ontario roads in 2021, a three per cent increase from the year before. It is hard to know what effect the speed limit changes will have on the driving habits of Ontario drivers in the long run. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many Ontarians have moved out of the larger urban centers. This is due to the increase in cost of living and sky-rocketing housing and rental prices. While working from home becomes the new norm, will the pace of traffic ease? Or will the dip in commuter traffic invite more speeding with the lessened congestion?

Even with the speed limit changes, it’s important to remember the effects of speeding on your insurance premiums. The risk of speeding fines may come at a cost. Think of demerit points and the risk of being labeled a high-risk driver. As a result, this may prevent you from being able to find insurance at all.

To learn more about the consequences behind speeding, click here.

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