July 18th, 2018

Lower speed limits could save lives

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on September 12, 2017.

An exasperated “finally!” was the reaction of many Hatters when the city increased the speed limit on Parkview Drive from 50 km/h to 70 at the end of August.

At the time, councillors said they hoped that the change will show progress is being made on a greater speed limit review through the city, although the results of this review most likely won’t be complete until the new year.

But — and this may draw the ire of people with lead in their foot — if Parkview was ripe for a speed increase, then there are numerous areas of the city that need the opposite.

Specifically, residential areas and the downtown core. Areas where there already are a lot of foot traffic already, and where we want to encourage more pedestrian usage.

Research supports lower speed limits for the sake of safety in these pedestrian-heavy areas.

For example, World Health Organization statistics show that when a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle travelling at 30 km/h, they have a 90 per cent chance of surviving. If hit at 45 km/h, there’s less than a 50 per cent chance of survival.

In 2012, the Ontario’s chief coroner recommended that the province reduce default road limits to 40 km/h, noting that a pedestrian struck by a car at 50 km/h is two times as likely to die as those hit a lower speed.

Lower speeds aren’t just for school zones — and are especially important for older citizens. The American Association of Retired Persons notes that older population has a higher risk of death if struck by a vehicle while out walking. This is in part due to having less mobility, often reduced ability to see and hear, and generally being more fragile.

A 2010 pilot project in Edmonton had six communities lower their speed limits to 40 km/h. The result was a 25 per cent drop in severe collisions.

Alberta is truck country, and that isn’t changing any time soon. Yet research by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute finds that large SUVs and pickup trucks are significantly deadlier to pedestrians than a smaller vehicle. This too is a reason why speeds need to be lowered. When there’s so many people driving gigantic metal boxes on wheels that weighs thousands of pounds? The basic laws of physics means they need to be going slower to ensure enough time to react and stop if needs be — just ask anyone who has accidentally sailed through a pedestrian crossing downtown before realizing they needed to stop.

Residential areas include multiple intersections, often not clearly marked, often obscured by fencing, bushes and more. There’s people pulling their vehicles out of driveways and alleyways, people parked on side of the road, and children walking to and from school. There’s outdoor (or escaped) family pets roaming about. Residential roads are also physically designed to encourage lower speeds, with sharper twists and curves, a feature that make visibility difficult and rounding a corner at 50 km/hour dangerous.

You also aren’t going to come across a game of street hockey, block parties and more heading along Dunmore.

Roadways in residential areas are simply differently —and speed limits should reflect this.

You can be an excellent driver, and still make mistakes. Part of being a good driver is knowing the limits of your capabilities.

Yes, slower speeds aren’t going to stop the dangerous drivers who speed excessively. But for everyone else, it means extra seconds to react when bad things happen.

And that’s worth trading off getting to a destination a few minutes faster.

(Peggy Revell is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)

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