Letter from the MTO to Chris Klimek of stop100.ca (PDF):
Thank you for your response dated July 24, 2012.
Sadly, you did not answer our request to justify and provide the origin of the present 100 km/h speed limit on Ontario’s 400-series highways. I realize it probably isn’t politically convenient to admit that the limit dates back to 1976 when the Energy Crisis caused by the Arab Oil Embargo pushed several countries to reduce their often much higher speed limits to curb fuel consumption at the time. Ontario’s limit was 112 km/h from 1968 to 1975.
In your letter, you have kindly listed the many required upgrades to our roadways in the event that the speed limit should be changed. May I remind you that Ontario governments of the 1960’s and 1970’s legislated higher limits than those we have today? Am I to understand that our superb 400-series highways are in fact so inferior to any roads on Earth (including their own state from the 1960’s) that the speed limit today must be kept so low? Please bear in mind that 100 km/h was only the result of the energy crisis at the time - not a revelation that the previous limit of 112 km/h was unsafe. How can you then defend 100 km/h speed limit today, by citing roadway deficiencies? I would personally prefer to be proud of our superb, wide and well maintained roads built with taxpayers’ money, and promote their abundant safety enhancements - and take credit for how they CAN, rather than CANNOT, support safe high speed travel of our citizens.
You also claim that other provinces that post higher limits have “different road environments and traffic volumes” than Ontario. Indeed, B.C. posts 110 km/h on mountainous highways, which as you may imagine are far more dangerous than our mostly flat and straight 400-series. Regarding traffic volumes, as traffic and roads safety experts, you and your team must be aware that denser traffic actually increases safety rather than reducing it (ie. fewer fatalities in more congested areas) due to much increased awareness and driver concentration levels. This is precisely why areas with heavily travelled metro freeways tend to observe much lower fatality rates per kilometres travelled than those with long distance, rural freeways.
Our group, which is growing by the day and counts over 1400 identified supporters as of now, is sending a firm message to you and your party. We refuse to drive in fear the moment we merge from a ramp onto a highway. We want to safely and legally drive at 120-130 km/h - speeds permitted in other countries around the world; and done so with stellar safety results.
We now possess data which will discredit your false claims that “speed kills”. Ironically, some of the data comes from none other than the MTO itself.
In 2009, out of 564 total Ontario road fatalities, 34 occurred on divided freeways, or a stunning 6%. If you then combine the 6% with the 20% of fatalities caused by excessive speed as you claim, you will realize the unbelievable - that speed on divided freeways contributed to only 1.2% of all Ontario road fatalities!
In other published statistic, the MTO, which you are responsible for, seems to purposefully mix statistics from all types of roads as if the purpose is to mislead the unsuspecting public, rather than separate city, secondary rural and multi-lane divided roads into their own respective categories. Divided freeways carry the least number of fatalities despite the highest speeds in Ontario as well as world-wide!
According to the 2009 ORSAR, speeding was attributed to 6.7% of all fatal accidents (56 out of 828). The number you are consistently referring to, however, and one we are unable to verify is 20%. The discrepancy is more likely caused by your counting of fatalities as opposed to fatal accidents - which are differentiated by the number of passengers present in a car at the time of collision. You must admit that the number of passengers has no relation to the cause of an accident, therefore your interpretation and presentation of the statistics that way seems to have been intended to simply inflate the number from 6.7% to 20%, for reasons unknown to us.
It is then very disingenuous of you to claim that Ontario roads are the safest in North America and in any way associate that fact with the 400-series speed limit. According to the very numbers I have just presented, the two have absolutely no relation. Not only is speed not the main contributor to fatalities per MTO’s own statistics, the number of fatalities caused by speed on the fastest roads pales in comparison with all other deaths that occurred on slower city and secondary roads due to factors other than excessive speed. In addition to that, such a claim loses even more credibility when confronted by the “common knowledge” that average speeds on Ontario’s 400-series are not around 100 km/h as you may incorrectly believe, but much closer to 120 km/h (simply because our drivers act no differently than those around the world and tend to drive at most comfortable highway speeds).
Another number worth considering is the fatalities per billion vehicle kilometers (f/bvkm) metric. In 2006, Ontario had 2 f/bvkm (this is also the average from the last 10 years according to the MTO statistics in our possession). Comparing this to Switzerland with freeway speed limit of 120 km/h, Denmark (130), The Netherlands (130) or the UK (112) - countries with less than 2 f/bvkm - should act as further proof that speed does not kill and hardly affects freeway fatality rates. More countries, such as Ireland (120), France (130) or Germany (unlimited sections) all rank below 3 f/bvkm - and are amongst the safest highway systems on Earth.
Moreover, freeway fatality rates fluctuate year-to-year even without speed limit change. The general trend in Canada, US and worldwide is characterized by a decreasing fatality rates regardless of where the speed limit is set.
Given the above, I sincerely hope that you begin to realize that raising our speed limit to a reasonable and globally recognized level of 120-130 km/h will have hardly any effect on fatalities on those roads - due to their very design permitting much higher speeds. In fact, the fatalities may actually decrease (due to a number of scientific reasons which we urge you to familiarize yourself with, for example the 85th percentile speed setting method).
Given your repeated baseless statements to the media that “speed kills”, your refusal to clarify, explain and back up your opinion and your lack of interest in the indisputable data prepared by your own staff, it is my assertion that your opposition to increasing the speed limits to a reasonable level on the 400-series highways is not based on any factual research, statistics or real safety implications, but rather on the political objectives of you and your party. It is my intention and commitment to fight such a baseless approach to setting road traffic laws while falsely promoting "safety" and spreading fear of fatalities before the uninformed public.
Let’s consider your “speed kills” theory: if speed kills, then why are we building fast moving highways which operate at speeds ranging from 110-140 km/h on a daily basis, yet the fatality rate on them remains extremely low? Why can other countries maintain 130 km/h speed limits resulting in little fatalities as well?
If speed kills then why do we build straight roads which promote speed, instead of designing twisty, curvy stretches to force motorists to move at much slower pace? Why rush at 100 km/h and risk one's life, if taking twice as long to reach one's destination at 50 km/h would seem much safer?
If speed kills due to “simple physics” as is often repeated by opponents such as you, then why is your ministry allowing “reckless” speeds 100 km/h or 80 km/h on secondary roads? Why are you not aggressively attempting to reduce 100 km/h speed limit to 50 km/h and 80 km/h to 40? Would not less citizens die?
If you find this proposal funny, absurd and plain unacceptable, then believe us - this is the tone of the conversation which you have continuously afforded us since April the 18th when our campaign has hit the provincial media. “Speed kills” is what you have repeated multiple times without any elaboration on which speed is it exactly that kills (101 km/h? 120 km/h or maybe 200 or 300 km/h - that have been legally permitted in Germany for decades with stunning safety result?)
Or maybe, Mr. Chiarelli, it is time to come to one's senses and stop spreading the “Speed Kills” propaganda for a political objective and look at the practices at home and world wide: most drivers prefer to cruise between 120 and 140 km/h on divided highways around the world (and here at home - yet, we are, because of you, doing this illegally). Such speeds are the most optimal for reducing congestion and travel time, safety and fuel consumption. According to many scientific practices contributing to road traffic safety (such as the 85th percentile), these speeds guarantee the least number of collisions which naturally results in the lower fatality rate. Hence most of the industrialized world has legislated speed limits ranging from 120-130 km/h on their divided freeways, allowing drivers a reasonably fast and comfortable travel, free of fear of enforcement, demerit points and hefty fines.
Multilane divided freeways have been invented and are engineered for a specific purpose: to allow safe travel at higher speed (than all the other types of roads). Engineers take physics courses - and apply the knowledge. Simple physics says that fatalities increase dramatically as vehicles hit fixed objects. So on high-speed freeways, traffic engineers remove unyielding trees or put guardrails around other fixed objects such as bridge abutments. Simple physics says head-on collisions are deadly. So traffic engineers divide opposing traffic with grassy medians, concrete and cable barriers. Simple physics says side-impact collisions are lethal. So traffic engineers replace crash-prone intersections with over-and-under-passes. Why are divided freeways tenfold safer? It’s simple physics!
Several EU and US jurisdictions have proven that speed does not significantly increase with increased limits on signs, compliance goes up (Utah and South Dakota) and that fatality rate does not change (The Netherlands, Denmark and Utah) (we can provide references to the information cited here). We therefore urge you to undertake a speed limit review starting with a simple admission that 100 km/h was NOT set out of safety, but contrary - was a follow up to the 55 mph national maximum speed limit (NMSL) law the USA had enacted in 1974 as a countermeasure to the Arab oil embargo. Ottawa was pressed by the United States to follow suit, which has resulted in massive pressures exerted on all provinces to comply. Ontario has chosen 60 mph instead of 55 starting January 1, 1976 after about eight years of successfully maintaining 70 mph (112 km/h) and expanding it to more provincial roads every few years.
Your belief in preserving one of the lowest divided freeway speed limits anywhere on Earth is not only not saving lives as you have been incorrectly led to believe, but it continues to inflict serious emotional distress of the millions of drivers every day who face extended travel times or drive in fear and are subject to demerit points, heavy fines and insurance rate increases! This is both dishonest and economically destructive as money is removed from drivers who might otherwise invest in more productive efforts. This is hardly the kind of responsible financial and social leadership that the people of Ontario voted for.
Rest assured, we will continue to demand a fairer driving privilege on behalf of the vast majority of Ontario citizens and we will not rest until the speed limits are changed. We urge you to reconsider your position and allow our drivers to travel safely, comfortably and efficiently with no fear of enforcement caused by the unreasonable speed limit from decades ago.