Year One: What You Need to Know About Our Safety and Speed Report Card

Safety Speed Graphic
In case you missed it, speed limits on certain stretches of BC highway changed following the Rural Highway Safety and Speed Review in 2014. It’s been more than a year since those new speed limits came in to effect.  To be sure those changes are keeping BC travellers safe, we’ve collected and closely reviewed one full year of speed and crash data for each section of highway where speed limits were increased. All the details of our post implementation review can be found here, but the three key areas of our “Rural Highway Safety and Speed Review Report Card” are listed below.
Hint: We need more data and distracted driving plays a big role.

1. More time and data are required

In addition to a thorough review by our engineers, we asked UBC researchers to assess the first year’s crash data and look specifically at the sections of highways where the speed limits increased. They concluded that there wasn’t enough data in a single year to get a complete picture of safety trends on each section of highway where the speed limits were changed. They determined that there was an overall average increase of 11% in crashes in the first year, which is pretty well consistent with the 9% increase we saw on all other BC highways where speed limits weren’t raised.

The one-year increase 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.

UBC researchers and ministry engineers recommended that more analysis be done for a longer period of time to get a more complete picture.

2. Crash rates are down or unchanged in 19 of 33 new speed zones

We’ve carefully examined crash and speed data from the 33 sections of highway where speed limits were increased and found that on 19 of 33 sections of highways, the crash rate either fell or, if there was an increase in the crash rate, drivers were moving at slower speeds than before the speed limits changed.

Crash data from November 1, 2014 to October 31, 2015 (compared with crash data from the previous three years) shows:

  • On 12 sections, the rate of speed increased and crashes decreased.
  • On seven sections, the rate of speed decreased (due to congestion or other factors) and crashes decreased.
  • On seven sections, the data shows that the crash rate increased – despite motorists traveling slower than they did before (due to congestion or other factors) the speed limits were increased.
  • On the remaining seven sections, the rate of speed increased and crashes increased.

3. Distracted driving remains the leading cause of crashes.

The 2015 data shows distracted driving is still on the rise. Between November 1, 2014 and October 31, 2015, 28% of all crashes in these areas were primarily caused by distracted driving. 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.

What’s next?

We’ve installed variable speed signs and wildlife detection systems, updated winter tire regulations, and introduced new legislation to boost safety and mobility on BC highways as a part of the 2014 Rural Highway Safety and Speed Review.

Although the researchers and ministry engineers recommended we take more time, to be on the safe side, we’ll be introducing new safety features and making adjustments on sections of highway where the crash rates have increased, including rolling back speed limit changes on:

  • Highway 1 from Hope to Cache Creek will return to 90 km/hour
  • Highway 5A from Princeton to Merritt will return to 80 km/hour

We’ll also continue to work with the police and ICBC on driver education and encouraging safe driving habits.

The following charts highlight the actions we’ll be taking on each section of highway as well as identifying the major contributing factors of crashes on each segment of road.

Speed increased, crash rate increased:

SICRI

SICRI2

Speeds decreased, crashes increased:

SDCRI

SDCRI

Do you have any questions about this or any other work the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure does? Let us know in the comments below. Safe travels!

9 comments on “Year One: What You Need to Know About Our Safety and Speed Report Card”

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  1. This a good report, as it identifies the human factors in crashes The reality on our roads is that many drivers exceed the posted maximum speed limits. While it would seem logical to raise limits, some drivers just add 10,20, 30 ,40 kph to the new posted speed. When road and traffic condition change, or there is distraction, some are not capable of driving safely and crash. It seem that the crashes , injuries and fatalities are increasing

    Variable speed signage should help those who are already careful drivers, but how to address high risk drivers -distracted and those who drive at excessive speed is the question.

    Much more education is needed to address the distracted and excessive speeders. Part of education is enforcement of the distracted driving and excessive speeding laws. The penalties are adequate-there needs to be more policing of BC Roads-and a lot more communication on penalties

    Reply
  2. Interesting that although the human factors are the major factors identified, there is little action anywhere to address the human factors- the main factor being driving too fast for conditions.

    In 2014, the Canadian Fatality rate and the actual number of fatal injuries decreased. The BC Fatal rate is above the Canadian average in 2014. There were 22 more fatal injuries in 2014 compared to 2013.

    While addressing road deficiencies is a positive action, ignoring the human factor will likely result in continuing increases in injuries on BC Roads.

    What is being done to address the distracted drivers , driving too fast for conditions?

    Reply
    • Hi Phil,

      Distracted driving and driving too fast for conditions are both serious problems being targeted right now.

      Distracted driving: Penalties increased significantly last month. Distracted drivers are subject to the following:

      – Each offence includes the base fine of $368 – up from $167 – and adds four penalty points to a person’s driving record.
      – First-time offenders face a minimum $543 in financial penalties.
      – Repeat offenders, upon a second offence within 12 months, will pay the $368 fine plus $520, for a total of $888 in financial penalties, which escalate further for any additional offence.

      Driving to conditions: Also last month, enforceable variable speed limit signs were activated on sections of Highways 1, 5, and 99 as part of a pilot project to help reduce the frequency and severity of weather-related crashes. They work like this: traffic, pavement and visibility sensors are calibrated to detect conditions and provide a recommended speed to operations staff located in the Regional Traffic Management Centre in Coquitlam. The recommended speed is used to update the speed shown on digital signs, helping drivers know a safe driving speed during adverse weather conditions. More information on these signs is available here: http://www.gov.bc.ca/variablespeedlimits

      Reply
      • While distracted penalties have increased and more drivers are pulling over to talk and text, far too many drivers drive far too fast for conditions-in the habit of driving 30, 40, 50 KPH over the limit as are reported on occasional IRU radar campaigns at Cook Creek and the Malahat on High way 19.

        What is the plan to target excessively speeding drivers who cause most crashes and injuries while distracted. What about speed monitoring technology to address this or more radar campaigns to get excessively speeding drivers off BC roads?

        Reply
  3. Hello,

    I am wondering if you could please provide me with information if there is any known estimated time for posting new reduced speed limit signs for Hwy 1 and Hwy 5A?

    Reply
  4. Sadly in the 120 speed zones too many are doing 150 with no police anywhere to be seen. Also please explain how going faster is safer? Have you seen what is left of vehicles involved in high speed crashes. I feel you are just trying to rationalize you very bad speed decisions.

    Reply
    • Hi John,

      Thanks for connecting with us and sharing your concern. During the Safety and Speed Review and consultation in 2014, we heard significant support for increases on key corridors including:
      Hwy 5: Hope to Kamloops 77%
      Hwy 97C: Aspen Grove to Peachland 81%
      Hwy 99: Horseshoe Bay to Whistler 83%

      Along with public consultation, over 300 speed surveys were conducted on rural numbered highways across the province. The speed surveys measured free flow speeds from which 85th percentile speeds were calculated. The 85th percentile speed represents the speed at or below which 85% of vehicles travel. It is the predominant factor used in setting speed limits in North America.

      When assessing speed limits, ministry engineers carry out an evaluation using the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) document entitled “Speed Zone Guidelines – A Proposed Recommended Practice”. This evaluation includes an analysis of free flow travel speeds and determination of the 85th percentile speed. Other considerations in speed limit analysis include:

      • safety history
      • geometric characteristics of the highway
      • consistency of speed limits along the highway
      • land use

      The speed surveys showed a number of rural highway corridors with 85th percentile speeds in excess of the posted speed limit, and also showed that many corridors are appropriately posted with 85th percentile speeds close to the existing speed limit

      Appropriate speed limits—set close to the 85th percentile speed—increase compliance and reduce speed differentials, thus reducing conflicts between vehicles.

      I hope that this helps answer your question. You can view the complete report of the Safety and Speed review here:http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/driving-and-transportation/reports-and-reference/reports-and-studies/planning-strategy-economy/rural_hwy_safety_speed_review_technical.pdf

      Reply