Should all Ontario highways increase their speed limits?

There has been a heavy debate over the years that the speed limits on Ontario’s heaviest highways should be increased. The main argument is that drivers are already going 110 km/h and more in a 100 km/h zone, so it should be increased to cope with the flow of traffic. 

Research shows that when the speed limit is raised, people tend to speed even more. Paired with that, research from the University of B.C. suggests the number of fatal crashes has doubled on highways where the speed limit has been hiked in recent years. 

With all this data we have to work off of, why would the province consider raising the speed limit on some of its busiest highways? And when you’re driving for a long distance, driving faster really only shaves off a few minutes, so is it really worth it? 

A pilot project has already been underway in Ontario since 2019

A recent pilot project has been underway on three usually congested Ontario highways as a hypothesis to see if they will officially jump to 110 km/h to improve the flow of traffic. 

The limit has been risen to 110 km/h on the following highways starting in September 2019.

  • Highway 402 from London to Sarnia (90 km).
  • Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) from St. Catharines/Lincoln to Hamilton (32 km).
  • Highway 417 from Ottawa/Gloucester to Ontario/Quebec border (102 km).

The idea behind these three arteries was that they can handle a jump to 110 km/h speed limit and they needed minimal or no upgrades to it to get started.

Will it help with the flow of traffic? Or will it make highways more dangerous?

It’s an important question, and one we can possibly look to the United States data to help with. According to research at the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, they “estimate that over the last 25 years in the U.S., they have seen 37,000 additional deaths associated with increases of speed limits.” 

There are a lot of other factors that come into play, such as the increase in distracted driving and what will happen around winter when drivers feel the need to drive faster. Not everyone has winter tires and/or has the confidence to navigate treacherous Canadian winters on the highways. And when you pair that with general increase in traffic volumes, more highway congestion with higher speeds could be a pending recipe for higher fatalities. 

How are speed limits determined?  

They are determined through something called the 85th percentile speed. 

This is the speed at or below which 85% of the drivers will operate with open roads and favorable conditions. The assumption underlying the 85th percentile speed is that most drivers will operate their vehicle at speeds they perceive to be safe.  

The speed limit on the 400-series highways are some of the busiest highway in North America - let alone Ontario – which are set at 100 km/h. However, there are other highways throughout the province that range between 80 and 90 km/h.This whole experiment could be playing with fire, or it could be something that is sensibly rolled out across the nation to help with traffic delays and help it flow better.  

What’s your take on this? Do you think that the speed limit should increase on some of Ontario’s busiest highways to help with the flow of traffic?