Former transportation minister disputes report tying fatality spike to higher speed limits

By James Peters
October 11, 2018 - 4:40pm

KAMLOOPS — A Kamloops MLA who oversaw an increase in speed limits on several B.C. highways in 2014 says crash and fatality data shown in a damning report on highway safety doesn't jive with what he was presented.

Todd Stone was B.C.'s minister of transportation in 2014 when speed limits were changed on about 1,300 kilometres of rural highways.

The changes included boosting the ideal-conditions limit on the Coquihalla Highway between Kamloops and Hope from 110 km/h to 120 km/h.

A report published in the journal "Sustainability" says since those changes, the number of fatal crashes has doubled.

The report, authored by Vancouver General Hospital emergency room physician Dr. Jeff Brubacher and co-authored by road safety engineers at UBC Okanagan, also said affected roads had a 43 per cent increase in total auto insurance claims.

Stone says ministry reports that came to his desk while he was minister contradict the new report.

"The data as it's detailed in this report, and the analysis of the data, varies greatly from the data that I last received in June of 2016," said Stone, who added the document itself has several inclusions that don't seem to make sense.

"Their estimate around the higher speeds that they believe were reflected since the speed limit increases indicated speeds going on average from 94 kilometres-per-hour to 94.3 kilometres-per-hour," said Stone. "It's hard to imagine how a 0.3 kilometre-per-hour increase could result in the significant increase in collisions and fatalities that they detail."

"The co-authors acknowledge in their report significant gaps in their data and challenges normalizing the data. They did not factor in weather conditions, impairment and distracted driving. They acknowledge wide margins of error with a number of their key estimates, including the increase in fatalities," he added.

Stone says one year after his ministry increased the speed limits, data showed little change in driver behaviour.

He said of 33 highway segments measured, 19 reported the same or fewer collisions, seven reported an increase in collisions but a decrease in speeds, and the final seven reported modest increases in both speeds and collisions.

Regardless of his views on the impacts of increased speed limits, Stone says decisions should be left in the hands of experts.

"I would defer to the professional engineers in the Ministry of Transportation who are the folks who have the background, the training and the expertise to best manage British Columbia's speed limit framework. At the end of the day, it's the engineers in the Ministry of Transportation who should be setting speed limits; not politicians and not social policy advocates," said Stone.

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