New data released today by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure shows that crash rates have dropped, or are unchanged, on 19 of 33 sections of highway where speed limits were increased in 2014, the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone announced.
The Coquihalla from Hope to Kamloops, for example, where the speed limit was increased from 110 kilometres per hour to 120 km/h, continues to see the lowest crash rate in the last 10 years.
“Ministry engineers have taken a close look at the speed and crash data for each section of highway where we increased speed limits,” Stone said. “They found that on 19 of 33 segments of highways, the crash rate either fell or remained unchanged.”
Over the last six months, engineers in the ministry have carefully examined crash and speed data from the 33 sections of highway where speed limits were increased in 2014. The ministry’s analysis, released today, compares crash data from Nov. 1, 2014 to Oct. 31, 2015 with crash data from the previous three years. The data shows:
- On seven sections, the rate of speed decreased and crashes decreased.
- On 12 sections, the rate of speed increased and crashes decreased.
- On seven sections, the rate of speed increased and crashes increased.
- On the remaining seven sections, the data shows that the crash rate increased, despite motorists traveling slower than they did before the speed limits were increased.
“Of particular interest, the data shows that we saw the crash rate increase on seven sections of highway where people were actually travelling slower,” Stone said. “This suggests again that there are many different factors that can lead to crashes and speed is only one of them.”
Changing weather conditions, distracted driving, driving too fast for conditions, heavy traffic, falling asleep, alcohol, driver error and wild animals can all contribute to crashes. Distracted driving, road conditions and driving too fast for conditions contributed to 54% of serious crashes where speed limits changed.
Distracted driving remains the leading cause of crashes on these sections of highway. In fact, the 2015 data shows distracted driving – also called driver inattentiveness – is still on the rise. Between Nov. 1, 2014 and Oct. 31, 2015, 28% of all crashes in these areas were primarily caused by distracted driving. Distracted driving was the primary cause of 22% of crashes during the previous 10 years. Driving faster than the posted speed limit was a contributing factor in only 2% of the crashes.
“Once again, this data serves as a reminder for the public to put your phone away while you are driving,” Stone said. “We continue to see a rising number of people being killed or injured while using their phones and driving a vehicle. A text message, a phone call, a Facebook post is not worth your or someone else’s life.”
The ministry retained University of British Columbia researchers to assess the first year’s crash data and look specifically at the sections of highways where the speed limits increased. The researchers concluded that there was not enough data in a single year to develop a statistically-significant trend for individual highway segments. However, they were able to determine, using a theoretical model, that the increase in crashes for all segments was up by an average of 11% in the first year. The UBC modelling is consistent with the 9% increase the province saw on all other British Columbian highways where the speed limits were not raised.
The one-year increase on B.C.’s highways is also consistent with the rising crash and fatality rates in places where speed limits have remained unchanged, as more people take to the road with lower gas prices and as distracted driving rates continue to climb. The United States, for example, saw a 14% increase in fatalities during the first six months of 2015. Oregon alone experienced a 59% spike during this period. Sweden – known for having some of the safest roads in the world – saw a 4% increase in the number of fatalities in 2014.
Likewise, highway speeds fluctuate every year regardless of whether speed limits change. For example, on Highway 16 Prince George to Vanderhoof, where speed limits haven’t changed, the traveling speed is up by 6 km/h from 2013. Similarly, the speed increased by 7 km/h on Highway 1 from Kamloops to Salmon Arm (Hilltop to Tappen), despite no speed limit changes.
The researchers recommended that more analysis be done for a longer period of time and projected that the crash rate would drop in the coming years.
“The findings in the reports highlight some of the challenges and complexities of looking at this data for only one year. We really need at least three years of data to establish a trend and we need to look at the trends in context with the range of causes for crashes,” Stone said. “Out of an abundance of caution, we will be introducing new safety features and making adjustments, where needed, on sections of highway where the crash rates have increased.”
In total, the crash rate increased on 14 of 33 sections of highways where speed limits increased. On the 14 sections where the crash rate has increased, the Province will invest in added safety features like improved road markings, better signage, new rumble strips, variable speed signs and wildlife safety measures.
“When we introduced the speed changes in 2014, I committed that if any of the zones show an increase in crashes and we can’t reduce them with engineering measures, the ministry would readjust the speeds,” Stone said. “That is why the ministry will be rolling back the speed limit changes on two of the 33 sections of highway: Highway 1 from Hope to Cache Creek will return to 90 km/h and Highway 5A from Princeton to Merritt will return to 80 km/h.”
The government, the police and ICBC will continue to work together on driver education and encouraging safe driving habits. In addition, the B.C. government continues to monitor safety on the highways and roads, working with the Road Safety Executive Steering Committee. This committee includes police and RCMP, ICBC, the provincial health officer, the chief coroner, WorksafeBC and RoadSafetyBC.
For two backgrounders, see the following links.
Improved safety measures on 14 sections of highways: https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/BG_Improvedsafetyhighways.pdf
Safety and mobility improvements for B.C.’s highways: https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/BG_SafetyMobilityhighways.pdf