Trading safety for speed on the 401

Canada’s busiest highway could be looking at a speed limit increase, jumping from 100 km/h to 120 km/h.

Ontario’s transportation minister Jeff Yurek made the announcement last week that the Conservative government was looking to review speed limits, mentioning the current 400 series highway speed limits are outdated, implemented in the 1970s as a fuel conserving measure. Yurek also stated the 400 series highways were originally designed with the intent of allowing vehicles to travel 120 km/h.

While that may have been the case, the amount of vehicles on the road today has grown exponentially since the ‘70s. So much to the point that Hwy. 407 was deemed necessary to help alleviate congestion in the Greater Toronto Area. Rush hour is no longer limited to just a morning or evening commute, as cars and transport trucks roll through the 828 km long Hwy 401 at all hours of the day and night. In all conditions, rain or shine.

Anyone who has driven Hwy 401 knows that a great deal of drivers already drive upwards of 120 km/h and it’s unlikely a member of the OPP would bother to ticket a car travelling between 110-115 km/h. Raise the legal limit to 120 km/h however and it’s not a stretch to expect drivers to start to creep up to 130 or 140. For perspective, under the current law, anyone caught driving 50 km over a posted limit is considered to be stunt driving.

Talk of raising the speed limit now seems particularly concerning, as just in January the Ontario government saw it fit to impose stiffer penalties on distracted drivers, raising the penalty up to $1,000 for first time offenders while repeat offenders could have to pay up to $3,000 while losing six demerit points.

As it stands the stretch of Hwy 401 that runs through Lennox and Addington County already has its share of problems, particularly come winter time. The terrain may be mostly straight, however shutdowns due to chain reaction pile-ups have become common place in this area. Upping the speed limit would only serve to further reduce the amount of reaction time a driver would have as they approach an unexpected cluster of bumper-to-bumper vehicles. The region’s big stretch of forested areas also make it prone for deer and coyote crossings, which are unpredictable enough as it is without factoring in the decreased reaction time for drivers.

With just two lanes in either direction through the region to work with, there’s very little room for error. The problems aren’t exclusively limited to winter however, as last year the September Labour Day weekend saw a shutdown of the 401 in this area, leading to a major backlog in downtown Napanee.

Science has proven time and time again there is truth behind the old adage ‘speed kills.’ As RCMP crash expert Sgt. Bruce McCowan told a B.C. based Global news outlet, speed is often times a major factor in collisions. Not only does it reduce the reaction time of a driver, it creates a much bigger impact when collision occurs.

When it comes to reaching a destination on time, the best thing drivers can do is to leave early and plan for unexpected delays. Any benefit a higher speed limit may bring would most certainly be negated by an increased risk to public safety.

-Adam Prudhomme

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