The commute time to the cottage is currently under review in Ontario. Last Wednesday, Ontario’s transportation minister Jeff Yurek told the Toronto Region Board of Trade that the province is planning to review highway speed limits with the potential of raising them.
This review will include a pilot project and consultation with the public before anything is implemented. And while the idea of getting to the cottage faster is appealing—especially when you have a dip in the lake and an ice-cold beer on the mind—is this the safest proposal?
Kerry Schmidt, a Sergeant with the OPP’s Highway Safety Division, doesn’t think so. “We know the faster you go, the more potential there is for serious injury and death,” Schmidt says. “Last year and even right now, aggressive driving and speeding is the number one killer on our highways. And if people are going to be going even faster than what they are, the speed itself is not going to kill you, but it’s the time when you’re in a collision and that deceleration that happens in those 300 milliseconds, that’s what’s going to kill you.”
According to Schmidt, a car on an Ontario highway is going approximately 30 metres a second, which leaves very little reaction time, especially if you’re distracted or driving through poor conditions.
The speed limits, however, are set by the Ministry of Transportation, not the OPP. “We do the law enforcement and we will enforce the rules of the road as they are legislated,” Schmidt says. But he is concerned about the fact that collisions at higher speeds cause more severe injuries.
In terms of how Ontarians would respond to increased speed limits, Schmidt says, “We’ll have to wait and see. I know there have been other provinces who have instituted higher speed limits and they’ve seen increases in collisions, and then they’ve reduced some of those speeds.”
On roads and highways, survivability increases as speed decreases. But this isn’t to say Schmidt advocates for drivers to go well below the speed limit either. In many cases, slow drivers can be just as dangerous as speeding drivers.
“They both have risks and dangers,” he says. “We need drivers to be aware of lane discipline, be aware of their spaces around them, what’s happening in front of them, beside them and behind them. They need to use their mirrors [and] be aware of other traffic. You’re sharing the roads with passenger vehicles, commercial traffic, motorcycles, pedestrians, all kinds of road users out there.”
Whether or not the speed limits will be increased on Ontario’s highways is still being debated, but Schmidt wants to remind drivers that “driving is a privilege, and if you are driving outside of the norm, you’re putting yourself in jeopardy.”