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Speed limiters: A little test drive

MONTREAL, Que. - Speed limiters: those who like'em, like'em a lot, with lots of good-sounding reasons. Those who hate'em can theorize you into a coma about why they are crazy, unsafe and undemocratic.

MONTREAL, Que. – Speed limiters: those who like’em, like’em a lot, with lots of good-sounding reasons. Those who hate’em can theorize you into a coma about why they are crazy, unsafe and undemocratic.

Many European Union countries have speed limiter laws, pilot programs or looming “limit by” dates. Transports Quebec, backed by the L’Institut national de sante publique du Quebec – Quebec’s public health institute, and the Quebec Trucking Association (QTA), wants them switched on for heavy trucks.

A 2005 QTA survey found that not only did 85% of responding carriers favour speed limiters, 80% were already using them. I made some calls: Normandin Transit governs its US-bound trucks at 68 mph.

Its local trucks are governed at 105 km/h.

“Fuel economy is the biggest benefit, and less wear and tear on the machinery,” says a company representative. Sure, says the rep, “Drivers complain that 68 mph is not a good speed, but if you gave them 80 mph, they would take it. Guys who argue that they don’t have the power to speed, we say ‘Go 105 km/h.'”

Con-Way Canadian Express has been governing its trucks at 65 mph since at least 1999. One inside opinion is that faster trucks are less safe than slower trucks with good lane discipline.

Challenger Motor Freight has “always” had a corporate speed limit of 100 km/h, says director of safety and compliance Bob Halfyard.

“Take one truck at 75 mph and one at 102 km/h. By the end of the day you will have seen the same truck pass you two to three times, and there he is with you at the end of the day.”

The arguments against speed limiters intrigued me, in particular that trucks stuck at 105 km/h will get into elephant races because they can’t all pass each other; they put cars at risk because their drivers, insane with frustration, will pull dangerous passing maneuvers; differential speeds for trucks and cars are just a bit unsafe, because the more a vehicle’s speed differs from the average speed of the traffic flow, the greater the number of “interactions” (ie. passing or being passed); and the greater the chance for an accident (that last point was made in a study on speed limit differentials carried out by the Mack-Blackwell Transportation Center at the University of Arkansas).

So I sacrificed myself to a little experiment: I took my car (my B-train was in the shop) out on the A-20, set the “speed limiter” to 100 km/h and settled in for mayhem and bloodshed.

I had 2.5 rules: brake, or accelerate to pass only to avoid ramming the vehicle in front of me; and never go faster than 105 km/h.

Here are my test results, with no lying statistics:

I drove 236 kilometres at 100 km/h on the A-20 east of Montreal.

I was passed by 22 trucks, two buses, one cube van and a Mandalay Motor Coach.

I was passed by 273 cars, including a Spyder, two KIAs without licence plates, a Ford F150 Lightning with white racing stripes and a wheelchair.

I passed six cars, including two pokyocuses behind a horse trailer. I passed four trucks, including a B-train on a hill.

For those 10 passes I accelerated five times. I braked once in those 236 km. I saw six fast white semis in an elephant race. The Surite du Quebec ticketed two cars for speeding.

This is what I think happened and, I confess, is what I have believed for years: On Quebec’s divided highways the main traffic flow is 110-120 km/h. Everyone in that “average” flow is constantly jockeying for position – passing, being passed, braking, catching up to the next clump of vehicles…it’s a lot of work. But cruising at 100 km/h, that flow flies right by, leaving you in peace.

I thought about several things: Divided highways are designed for safe “interactions”; elephants can race at 110 km/h just as easily as at 100 km/h, there is already a mechanism that enforces a differential speed for trucks: it’s called hills and they haven’t been banned; why beat your brains out going with the “flow” at 115 km/h; and hey, if 100 km/h is so unsafe for trucks, what’s that say about our speed limits in the first place?

I do not know how I would have fared at 5 p.m. on a Sunday heading west into Montreal, when the lanes are plugged and the flow is going hellbent for leather, but you know what?

A mechanic told me that modern cars have a little chip in them that can be programmed to limit their maximum speed.

Here’s an idea: Set them for 105 km/h, ’cause what is good for the goose is also good for the damn gander.

Carroll’s test results:

Kilometres driven: 236

Trucks passed by: 22

Cars passed by: 273

Trucks passed: 4

Cars passed: 6

Accelerations required: 5 times

Braking required: 1 time

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