The Case For Higher Speed Limits on Highway 401

The case for higher speed limits on Hwy. 401 (Trans-Canada Highway):
Gord Thompson may be the only man in Ontario ever charged under the Highway Traffic Act for obeying the letter of the law. The teacher from Campbellford and another motorist caused a four-kilometre traffic jam on Highway 401 seven years ago by driving side by side at the posted 100 km/h speed limit. They were charged with obstructing traffic and had their licences temporarily suspended.

Weeks earlier, Thompson had been ticketed for going 117 km/h on the same road and staged his slow-motion protest after a judge told him he was breaking the law by going even a kilometre over the posted limit.

Posted by dustin on January 4, 2007 with category tags of

I'm from Campbellford Ontario. I think I may know this fellow, Gord Thompson. If I'm not mistaken he's a math teacher, although I haven't set foot inside CDHS for twenty years.

Interestingly enough its not a Judge that presides over Ontario traffic courts, its a Justice of the Peace or a Magistrate. In my experience these people are naturally jaded at being marginalized and passed over by the system to reign as tyrants in small ponds. When I appear in court I show no fear and always take a few minutes after the sentence has been pronounced to detail the hypocracy of speed traps and the traffic cops that do a day's work in twenty minutes there.
   comment by Rob Campbell on January 4, 2007

Much of the evidence presented in this article seems rather anecdotal. Much of the points in favor of raising the speed limits seem to hinge on an assumption that those higher limits will themselves be obeyed. I'm not convinced of that.

The safety and environmental arguments also seem somewhat dubious. Every report I've read has indicated that the faster a car goes, the less safe and the less efficient it is. The efficiency difference is pretty significant, and getting drivers to drive more slowly is a small but important step in reducing carbon emissions and smog.

I think lower driving speeds are safer and more environmentally friendly, and thus good. ambiguous laws are bad, but i'm not even sure that there is a contradiction in the law as it's presented in the article. His second charge wasn't for driving the limit, it was for blocking traffic. Slower traffic is supposed to keep right, no matter how fast the rest of traffic is moving. It shouldn't matter how fast the rest of the drivers are going - he should have gotten out of the way.
   comment by Neale on January 4, 2007

It's not that the law is "ambiguous". It clearly states the limit. It's just that 90+% of people on the road break it routinely. Is that really a good law then? I'm of the opinion that any time you have a massive amount of people breaking a law, that law needs to be rethought.

Their stunt of driving at the speed limit shows that if this law were truly enforced, the 401 would be one huge traffic jam. The only reason that doesn't happen is that everyone breaks the law and the cops don't consistently enforce it. They just enforce it sometimes. Giving this situation there are 2 options:
1: Randomly ticket people for doing what everyone else is doing, when the cops happen to be there. (the status quo)
2: Alter the law to reflect what is actually happening on the road.

My vote is for 2.
   comment by dustin (#1) on January 4, 2007

If they increased the limit to, say, 120 km/h, what's to say that people wouldn't then drive 130 km/h?

I could be open to the idea, but feel there isn't enough information presented.
   comment by Neale on January 4, 2007

I don't know what would happen if they raised it. Some people would probably still break it. There are some people driving 130+ km/h now anyways, so what's the difference? If the limit were raised to a more reasonable limit, then enforcing it would become viable (without causing massive jams).

In the linked article, that's one option given that I think makes sense: "the Canadian Automobile Association, which supported Abdulhai’s conclusions [that the speed limit be raised to a more realistic 130 km/h] if combined with a program of increased speed limit enforcement.
   comment by dustin (#1) on January 4, 2007

I dont know if traffic law will support your suggestion, though. Ideally I see your solution as one that would have the limit set at 130k/h and when cops are present, everyone is ticketed for going 131k/h or over. The problem is that the existing law has gradually increasing penalties the faster you deviate from the set speed limit. One of the main reasons cops don't pull people over for going 108 k/h is that the penalty for going 8km over the speed limit is pretty much trivial. Therefore I've always considered myself "safe" to drive 15 k over the limit regardless of what the set limit was. I'd totally drive 145k/h if the limit was 130 and the road conditions were safe and I'm NOT saying that's a good thing here...

Also something to consider: the realistic precision expectation on that cop's radar gun is +/- 5 k/h. The precision on your car's speedometer is +/- 5 k/h. This means that you can be clocked as having travelled 109 k/h by the cop's radar gun and you can successfully argue in a court of law that you were not in any way intentionally breaking the law. That's another reason why the cops only care about people who are going at least 10 if not 20 kilometers over the posted limit.

Long story short, I've never had a problem with the cops on the 400 series highway. I'll bet you Gord Thompson must have sent that cop a pressed ham before getting pulled over.
   comment by James on January 5, 2007

Looks like I'm a little late to the party on this one. I'd still like to get a few words in, because, as a pathologically law-abiding person, this sort of thing ENRAGES me.

The speed limit either has to be enforced or raised.
Drivers shouldn't be forced to choose between breaking the law and putting themselves at risk by driving at a dangerously low speed relative to the flow of traffic, to say nothing of the road rage they'd doubtless incite by doing so.

Enforce the limits or raise them.
   comment by John on January 2, 2009

I just happened to find this searching for something else, and this is a topic I believe is important.

I think it's pretty simple. Most people speed; going slower can actually be dangerous; and the highest risk is the range of speeds.

Simple solution. Raise speed limit on multi-lane highways; severely raise fines for speeding; and start enforcing the law.

Right now:
120km/h = maybe a ticket
135km/h = very likely a ticket (if being watched)
150km/h = instant suspension

Solution: raise limit to 110
120km/h = min $100 fine and 2 pts
130km/h = min $500 fine and 10 pts
140km/h = min $2000 and instant suspension

Raise the speed limit to be more in line with today's "norm", make speeding a serious issue, and enforce it.
   comment by Mike on January 28, 2009

A study by the University of Toronto showed that the "comfortable" speed limit is 140km/h. A speed limit of 100km/h lulls you to sleep, and is actually extremely dangerous as the driver does not have the same attention span as a driver at higher speeds. They have had the same studies in Europe and the southern states, and came to the same conclusion. In all the southern states the limits were raised. Montana had the lowest accident rate AFTER they introduced no speed limits, and double the accident rates after limits were re-imposed, on the insistence of the federal government. Of course, with higher speed limits the yearly revenue to the provincial coffers would be reduced......
   comment by Invictus on October 14, 2009

I was just ticketed a couple days ago for going 75 in a 50, when the 50 zone was becoming a 60 zone a few feet after where the officer was parked. It was far from residential, there were no other cars on the road, dry and sunny, and no pedestrians in site. I passed officers going the same speed on other days in the exact same spot.

When 10km/hr over is never questioned, why should 15 or 20km/hr when logically there is no risk to anyone? There is a problem when breaking the law is commonly accepted. I was only doing what I've observed to be acceptable in previous circumstances. Maybe it was acceptable other times because I was going with traffic? So I have to have a car in front of me and behind me to speed? Does that make sense?

I would rather be told anyone over the speed limit will be tickted, then if you are 5km/hr over, you'll be ticketed.
   comment by John C on November 10, 2009

This article makes way to much sense for the govt. to even consider it.
   comment by Frank Walter on September 15, 2010

I agree with Mike. It costs money to increase enforcement (ie. more police officers) however; administering strict monetary penalties for speeding is relatively cheap. I recommend increasing the speed limit and imposing harsh fines for those who speed. This is efficient for tax payers and motorists alike. I commute to Toronto everyday and I can tell you that few people drive 100km/hr on the 401 - The limit should be raised to 120 km/hr. That being said, young driver education programs should be required to provide students with a more comprehensive highway driving curriculum to support this type of change. Personally, I would enjoy a 140km/hr speed limit but worry that differences in vehicle/driver capability would reduce safety to the point of outweighing benefits.
   comment by Brian on June 26, 2011

Speed limits on the majority of the 401 and most other 400 series highways should be removed. Speed limits should be posted and enforced for the safety purposes (ex. Sharp corners, busy towns/cities like Belleville, Kingston, Brockville.)

The model to follow is the Autobahn where speed limits are posted electronically and are variable depending on weather, traffic conditions and visibility. MTO already monitors (almost) the entire length of the 401 with traffic camera's and can determine the conditions for which speed limits can change. Like the Autobahn, these are excellent highways in great condition that would accommodate high-speed travel.

There should also be changes to certify vehicle safety throughout ownership and not just during owner transfer. This would greatly increase the safety of high-speed travel.
   comment by Thomas Elliott on August 24, 2011


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