Speed limit enforcement could help fix ICBC: UBC expert

Werner Antweiler

WITH ICBC reporting a potential $1.3-billion deficit, many ideas are being proposed to help the Crown corporation scale back its spending.

Werner Antweiler, an associate professor at the UBC Sauder School of Business, thinks better enforcement of speed limits could be one solution.

In this Q&A, Antweiler expains the evolution of speed limits in B.C. and how improved enforcement can reduce crashes, help ICBC save money on insurance claims and make roads safer.


How well are speed limits enforced in B.C.?

Even though penalties for speeding are high, the probability of getting caught is low.

Photo radar was used in the 1990s but came to be seen as a “cash grab.” It was promptly abandoned in 2001 by the incoming Campbell government, and since then, police officers conduct spot checks using Lidar guns. This approach is costly and outdated.

There are better options today than two decades ago that are highly effective and can’t be seen as cash grabs. Effective enforcement means people stick to the speed limit, and few, if any, get a ticket for exceeding the limit.


What are newer alternatives for speed limit enforcement?

Average speed over distance is an approach that has been tried successfully in Scotland, and evidence shows there has been a 37 per cent drop in fatal and serious casualties. The technique involves photographing license plates at the entry and exit of a long highway section and calculating the speed in between. Because monitoring is around the clock, the probability of speeders getting caught is 100 per cent. Unlike traditional photo radar, average speed control is well advertised through signage before entering the speed enforcement section. There is no surprise, no uncertainty, no cash grab, and no speed “trap” to catch unsuspecting drivers.

The benefit of average speed control is twofold: the speed limit reduces average speed, but it also reduces the speed differential between vehicles. Fewer accidents happen when vehicles travel all at the same speed.

Another enforcement option is speed on green, which is currently being used in Edmonton. Vehicles travelling at excessive speed through an intersection during the green phase of a light are captured by red-light cameras. Given the same piece of equipment is being used, this technique is not only cost effective, but also helps reduce speed and accident rates.


Why is there a need for better speed limit enforcement in B.C.?

Car crashes are on the rise in British Columbia. According to ICBC, there were 330,000 crashes in B.C. in 2016, up 27 per cent from 2013. One out of three crashes happens at intersections, and speed is a factor in three out of ten crashes.

Simply put, safer driving saves money. Investing in road safety and a new generation of smart enforcement technologies can keep insurance rates from climbing. Focusing on known trouble spots, such as high-collision intersections and highway sections, also prevents injuries and saves lives, which is what really matters.

Although cost-effective technology can improve enforcement without repeating the mistakes of photo radar from the 1990s, speeding will remain a problem as long as many motorists believe that speed signs are only there to be ignored or taken as mere suggestions. For laws to be taken seriously, enforcement is necessary even when unpopular.