Let the majority travel legally this summer
With each summer season, I am astounded at the amount of injustice happening on our provincial 400-series highways. With warm weather and mostly dry conditions, virtually all drivers are subject to the potential of financial punishment for simply using the roads. Their crime: “speeding”.
Does anyone truly believe that staying at or below the posted speed limit of 100 km/h is a wise thing to do? Would the authorities, including those individuals who set and enforce laws really appreciate it if we all needlessly slowed down and cruised at 95 or 100 km/h? What would be the point? A typical Toronto-Montreal trip would take 5 hours instead of 4. Monotony and boredom would triumph and distraction would likely follow suit. Not to mention frustration and possible road rage that would ensue. That would endanger everyone on the road, regardless of speed.
Nobody, including the two Durham Region police officers I have spoken to during informal conversations, believes we should really stick to 100 km/h. But that’s what the sign says, and that’s where the ticket fines come from.
The Ministry of Transportation confirms - the design of the 400-series highways is perfectly capable of supporting traffic moving at 120 km/h and faster on stretches with no sight-line limitations.
So why do we continue with this hypocritical law that has been thoughtlessly imposed on us for the last 40 years? The cars have become safer and significantly more fuel-efficient. Our anecdotal and unwritten 400-series speed limit has been 120 or even 130 km/h for years - and the fatality rate remains very low. In 1968, the speed limit was 112 km/h (70 mph), yet today we are told to crawl at 100 km/h.
I can’t understand why drivers are labeled “speeders” who “get away with it” for simply using these roads as designed. Whenever I hear the phrase that "even 1 km/h above the posted speed limit is speeding" (as if the officers on the clock did not themselves exceed the speed limit while driving in their cruisers), I can't help but think of the chicken and egg story. And I ask: what was first; a "speeding" driver or a speed limit set unreasonably low?
Unfortunately, in Ontario, our authorities refuse us a reasonable speed limit. Who cares that over sixty jurisdictions world-wide, including half of the U.S. and most of the EU can legally drive at 120 and 130 km/h. Driving on our 400-series highways simply must be illegal.
"Because if we raise the limit, drivers will go even faster". Really? Why is there abundant evidence to the contrary? Why has Utah seen no speed change in 2009 after raising their already higher limit of 75 mph (120 km/h) to 80 mph (128)? Why aren't most drivers on my annual trip to the USA blasting past me at 140 km/h when I travel through the 120 km/h-speed-limit states? Why are the majority of cars on the unlimited German autobahn travelling around 130 km/h according to the statistics? Why aren’t they all doing 200 km/h since they can?
The false “always-20-over” theory has been alive and well for one reason alone - Ontario's 100 km/h speed limit. Faced with a low limit, drivers naturally exceed it. Imagine dropping the 400-series speed limit to 80 km/h. Would anyone still be expected to obey it? Or would we all of the sudden become even worse “speeders”? It’s likely that instead of our typical 20 or 30 km/h over the limit, many more would begin driving at 40 or 50 km/h faster. Not that we would actually drive any faster, but we would break the law by that much more. So is that really fair?
Given a speed limit that is more closely matched to the design and quality of the road and one set by road engineers and traffic safety experts instead of politicians as is currently the case, drivers will find themselves comfortably cruising within the letter of law, or close to it. Would we rather obey or break the law, given a choice? Does the 100 km/h speed limit offer any choice as it is?
Or take the “stunt driving” / 7-day-vehicle impound law, for example. Currently, drivers caught at 50 km/h over the speed limit (ie. 150 in 100 km/h zones) face a draconian punishment of a high ticket fine, significant insurance rate increase, approximately $1k for impound and towing costs and above all, the unimaginable humiliation and inconvenience of being stranded on the side of the road.
Not that long ago, I visited Europe and in particular Germany. I can’t fathom how the law – rather than our own actions – determines whether we become proper citizens or serious offenders or even criminals. While on the unlimited section of the German highway, I briefly ventured out into the 150+ km/h territory on sections that closely resembled highway 400 towards Barrie. Ironically, I was not breaking any laws! Two simple rules applied – stay right and pay attention. I followed both and reached my destination unharmed, with nothing to report.
In Ontario, if caught, my actions would be vilified, my name published in local news outlets and a proud OPP officer responsible for stopping me would take glory and be credited with saving my life (at my enormous expense). My question is: why didn’t the German highway police need to come to my rescue?
Suspiciously, when it comes to real safety on our provincial highways, there is little to no interest coming from the Ministry and the OPP in promoting proper lane discipline. “Left Lane Hogs Arrested And Charged With Dangerous Driving” is a headline in my dreams. It seems that our supposedly pro-safety authorities are quite comfortable with preserving the status quo, no matter how dangerous it is in reality and offer virtually no punishment for occupying the passing lane – the very rule that allowed me to cruise at 150+ km/h in Germany with ease.
The irony and injustice here is that in the end, it will be me who gets punished for driving at a reasonable, yet illegal speed, while protecting some who can’t drive at all and fearfully, yet perfectly legally crawl in the middle lane at 100 km/h while interrupting traffic flow and forcing drivers to pass on both sides.
So who is more dangerous in reality – a focused and disciplined driver cruising at 130 km/h in the proper lane, or the one hesitantly merging at 80 km/h or hogging the passing lane at 110 km/h?
Do we not have our priorities wrong? Are we not punishing the wrong crowd?
So let's finally say 'enough' to one of the lowest freeway speed limits on Earth and join the rest of the industrialized world. Let’s enact proper laws and get the OPP to focus on offences with proven negative safety consequences; such as left lane banditry. Finally, let’s recognize our current speeds and let the majority drive safely and legally at 120 and 130 km/h this summer.
Chris Klimek from Oshawa, Ontario is the founder of www.stop100.ca - group which demands increasing Ontario 400-series highway speed limit to globally recognized 120 and 130 km/h.