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Throttle down that need for speed

There were until this week six highways in Canada that should have speed limits of 120 kph or higher.

There were until this week six highways in Canada that should have speed limits of 120 kph or higher, in my opinion. And I should know — I've driven most of the highways in Canada.

B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure this week raised the speed limit on three B.C. highways. Of these, I agree with only one. That makes for seven Canadian highways, in my opinion, that should have speed limits of 120 kph, or higher. And to be frank, I'm still not sure about one of them.

The thing about speed limits is this: Most everyone will drive at a speed of around 100 kph — a very civilized, egalitarian mile-a-minute, which has worked quite well as a standard of automobile speed for years. But not everyone will be driving 120 kph (except on those seven Canadian highways). I would suggest a far greater percentage will be driving under the speed limit than would be in a 100 kph zone.

The B.C. Truckers Association, for example, which opposed the increase, has already said its members will not be driving that fast. And there will be a large percentage, I would bet, that will drive faster than the speed limit. So right off the bat we'll have a greater variety of speeds than before, leading to "snakes," leading to greater impatience, leading to more aggressive driving, risk-taking, etc.

Speed, of course, is not the only factor in driver safety, or lack thereof. There is driver fatigue or error, weather conditions, automobile condition, etc. But varying rates of speed in heavy traffic is a condition that renders that highway unsafe.

The seven highways in Canada where the speed limit can be 120 kph, or even more, are the No. 16 (the Yellowhead), from Saskatoon to Edmonton, the No. 2 between Calgary and Edmonton, the Trans Canada across Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Highway 11 between Regina and Saskatoon, and the No. 3 between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. The sixth is the relatively new Inland Island Highway on Vancouver Island (one of those upped to 120 kph this week).

The seventh, which I'm not sure about, is Highway 401 out of Toronto (eight lanes, doncha know), which becomes Highway 20 through to Montreal and Quebec City. But oh, the traffic congestion, the traffic congestion ... On roads as congested as southern Ontario or the Lower Mainland in B.C., traffic should be made to slow down — for everybody's safety. Similarly with the Coquihalla in the B.C. Interior, one of those upped to 120 kph this week. Though a well-engineered highway and a key connector, Highway 5 sees enough vehicle crack-ups at 110 kph. It sees so much tourism traffic, inclement weather and extreme rates of incline, that drivers should be encouraged to slow down — just a little — not to speed up. For everybody's safety.

Or do you think what I'm suggesting is just Communism?

Listen, Comrades, here are the criteria for 120 kph. Take the No. 3 between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat — a stretch of wide four-lane that runs straight as an arrow over country so flat you can see around the curve of the earth beyond the horizon. Ditches as gentle as spoons. This is how Highway 3, and the others, fits the bill for 120 kph, or even higher. This is how the Inland Island Highway, as opposed to the Malahat from Victoria to Nanaimo, fits the category. Here are other criteria:

• Commerce, not tourism. A highway that sees an awful lot of recreational vehicle traffic, like many of B.C.'s highways, is cluttered with varying rates of speed and drivers of various rates of experience for the geography. On the Inland Island Highway, the 120 limit starts at Parksville, beyond which most of the Vancouver Island tourism ends.

• If there are mountains, forget about it. Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel, and the speed at 100 kph (or just a wee bit faster).

• A visually uncompelling drive. The prairies are pretty in their own right, but there's not much of a tendency to gawp at the scenery between Regina and Saskatoon. Pedal to the metal!

• Heavy traffic (see above). I've been "rooted out of the groove" on the 401 going into Toronto. If the car behind you is going faster, you've got to get out of the way into the adjacent "slower" lane. Being forced to speed up to 140 by someone behind you flashing his lights and honking his horn, while looking for a spot to slip into the next lane so you can immediately slow down to 120, can be a little white-knuckling in heavy freeway traffic. There are crack-ups aplenty on the 401.

In any case, the Ministry elected there was enough research and support for its speed limit modifications. I'll look forward to seeing you all in the left hand lanes.

Barry Coulter

About the Author: Barry Coulter

Barry Coulter had been Editor of the Cranbrook Townsman since 1998, and has been part of all those dynamic changes the newspaper industry has gone through over the past 20 years.
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