Ontario Government Leaves Speed Limits At A Standstill

State interference stalls progress. Both in the economy and in traffic.

The speed limit on Ontario’s 400-series highways was 70 miles per hour (112 kilometres per hour) in the late 1960s. Pressured to ration gasoline during the energy crisis of the mid-1970s, the Ontario government reduced the speed limit to 60 miles per hour (96 kilometres per hour) in 1976. Since then, we’ve converted to the metric system, but our highway speed limits remain unchanged.

In other words, my father could legally drive his 1972 Volkswagen Beetle down the 401 faster than any of us are allowed today.

72 Beetle

In order to remedy this situation, a group entitled stop100.ca is advocating higher speed limits for Ontario’s 400-series highways. Not surprisingly, the Ontario government is idling in response. The Canadian Press summarizes transportation minister Bob Chiarelli’s position:

However, Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli says speed is a factor in 20 per cent of fatal car accidents in Ontario, so the province will not be increasing the highway speed limit.

He says the government “is not inclined in any way, shape or form to increase the speed limits on Ontario roads.”

Chiarelli also rejects suggestions that everyone already drives 120 kilometres an hour on highways, and says police are kept busy issuing tickets to drivers caught going that fast.

He says Ontario has the safest roads in North America and intends to keep that record by maintaining the current speed limits.

Let’s take a closer look these claims. Road safety statistics in Ontario are documented in the Ontario Road Safety Annual Report (ORSAR). The most recent published data is from 2008. The following table, found in the 2008 ORSAR, specifies the apparent driver action which took place according to the type of collision that occurred:

As you can see, driver speed was implicated in 13% of fatal accidents – not 20%. But that’s not all. Driving too fast for conditions was the apparent cause for almost half of these speed-related fatal collisions. Common sense should suggest that the speed limit is irrelevant when driving on black ice with tread-worn tires in the middle of an Ontario blizzard. If you isolate fatal accidents caused by driving at speeds greater than the posted speed limit, one can see that it was the apparent cause in 7% of cases. In fact, speeding above the posted limit was to blame for only 0.6% of total collisions. And this includes Sudbury drivers, too:

If diligently driving along a 400-series highway at 120 km/hour isn’t the dangerous calamity that Chiarelli suggests it is, why all the bluster against increasing speed limits? I suspect the transportation minister answers this question when he acknowledges that police “are kept busy issuing tickets to drivers caught going that fast.”

Busy is an understatement. In 2008, the ORSAR indicates that police officers obtained 780,152 speeding convictions. This constitutes 60% of all motor vehicle convictions related to the Highway Traffic Act.

The truth of the matter is that outdated speeding laws create victimless “crimes”. The state then exploits this for financial gain. Of course, this is nothing new. As Murray Rothbard explains in The Case Against The Fed:

(U)nlike private persons or firms, who obtain money by selling needed goods and services to others, governments produce nothing of value and therefore have nothing to sell. Governments can only obtain money by grabbing it from others, and therefore they are always on the lookout to find new and ingenious ways of doing the grabbing.

Issuing speeding tickets for driving at reasonable speeds is one such way. And, as many Torontonians see on their daily commute, legislative gridlock by an obstinate government contributes to the gridlock on our highways.

3 Responses to “Ontario Government Leaves Speed Limits At A Standstill”

  1. Andrew says:

    I am finally going to start posting my in car video footage on line to demonstrate just how unsafe speeding motorist are on our 400 series highways. I drive with a DOD Tech GS600 video car cam, it requires video at 1080p so clearly that you can make out the license plate numbers on the cars. I have it mounted in away that you would have really look to see it mounted on my car.

    When I get the site posted I will probably update this story.

  2. Redmond says:

    From a mailed in Comment…

    Hi Folks,

    Additionally to the statistics about accidents: If the government denies that typical speed on the 401 is around the speed limit, they're lying through their teeth. I drive frequently there, and the typical speed is about 18-120. A "fast lane" usualy exists with drivers at about 130. The police do not arrest below 120, and at least during the various hours (especially evening) that I drive on it, they don't generally arrest event at 130 or so. There are often drivers at 140 or so too.

    Now: when they say a fatal accident is "speed related", what do they mean? Very likely, that they are exceeding the speed limit. But of course, that's about 97% of all the vehicles on the 401. If they could find an accident that was caused by going too fast in a sense that implied losing control or being unable to stop or steer in time, I'd
    be interested to know about it. My suspicion is that the number of accidents genuinely caused by speeding is around zero. You expect State statistics to be full of flummery, and this is a standout example. The province's claim to be "protecting us" by having low speed limits is completely baseless, at least insofar as it applies to the 401 (which must carry a pretty substantial percentage of all the traffic in the province.

    Jan N

  3. In his magnum opus Capitalism, George Reisman explains the loss of productivity that America suffered in the 1970s after it reduced its speed limits to 55 mph. It is simple math. The same amount of goods could not be transported over the same time period. To return to its previous level of hauling capacity, the trucking industry had to invest in more trucks and larger trucks. This investment came at a cost. It is classic Bastiat: "That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen".

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