Speed limiters: What “could” or “would” happen versus what “did” happen
June 15, 2008
June 15, 2008
Since coming out in favor of speed limiters I’ve been overwhelmed by calls and e-mails from drivers and owner/operators with dire warnings about what “could” or “would” happen should such legislation be passed in Ontario. I thought I would respond by looking at what “did” happen. After all, although the debate about speed limiters is a hot one in Canada, it’s old news in other parts of the world. And the experiences in those countries has much to show us, for those willing to keep an open mind anyway.
Australia is the first country I want to consider. Speed limiters have been the law for both trucks and buses there since 1990 and they’re set at 100 km/h.
Those opposed to speed limiters in Ontario say the speed differential between heavy trucks and cars they force will cause accidents. Have the Aussies, after almost 20 years of speed limiters found that to be true? Here’s what Chris Brooks, senior adviser, road safety, Australian Transport Safety Bureau, told us:
“There is no good evidence that a 10 km/h differential between light vehicle and truck speed limits creates a safety problem. If there is any such problem at all, it is small compared to the safety benefits of running trucks at 100 km/h rather than 110 km/h.”
Just as interesting was what Australia’s National Road Transport Commission found when it looked into what motivates drivers to speed. It found that speed choice for truck drivers is largely depended on the prevailing weather, traffic density, police presence and road conditions. While truck drivers are concerned about speed limit differentials between heavy vehicles and the prevailing speeds of other traffic, they consciously trade off speed and risks of prosecution and crashing; regarding fines as a cost of doing business.
In other words, in the real world, the benefits of getting home early or delivering on time too often trump the risks associated with driving too fast.
Speed limiters place everyone on a level playing field and shippers and carriers can’t push drivers to drive too fast to meet a schedule.’
Another concern for the anti-speed limiting lobby is that speed limiting trucks will lead to more overtaking, and hence more serious crashes, as motorists get fed up with being stuck behind lumbering behemoths, particularly on country and regional roads. I find that argument particularly hard to grasp considering the speed limit on country roads is 80 km/h and 90 or 100 km/h on regional roads, both considerably below the proposed speed limiter setting of 105 km/h.
But let’s look at the Australian experience. Have almost two decades of speed limiters (set at 100 km/h) led to carnage in the Outback? Again, we asked Chris Brooks, senior adviser, road safety, Australian Transport Safety Bureau. Here’s what he told us:
“In fact, overtaking-related crashes on rural roads are surprisingly uncommon…It may be that on two-lane roads with a general speed limit of 110 km/h, the presence of speed-limited trucks tends to constrain light vehicle speeds. If so, there may well be a substantial net safety benefit that would be lost if trucks were permitted to travel faster.”
In other words, rather than causing more accidents, speed limited trucks are causing other traffic to slow down and thus reducing the likelihood of accidents.
There are still some in Australia who don’t want speed limiters, of course. But I’ve specifically chosen to use Brooks’ comments because he was not speaking for the Australian Trucking Association, which like the Ontario Trucking Association here, supported speed limiters. He is speaking for the government, which after almost 20 years of speed limiters would be under pressure to change the legislation if there was strong evidence it was leading to more accidents.
The fact there is ongoing support for speed limiters speaks for itself.
In my next blog, I’ll look at the impact of speed limiter legislation in Europe.
With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics. All posts by Lou Smyrlis