Ontario Government Leaves Speed Limits At A Standstill

State interference stalls progress. Both in the economy and in traffic.

The speed limit on Ontario’s 400-series highways was 70 miles per hour (112 kilometres per hour) in the late 1960s. Pressured to ration gasoline during the energy crisis of the mid-1970s, the Ontario government reduced the speed limit to 60 miles per hour (96 kilometres per hour) in 1976. Since then, we’ve converted to the metric system, but our highway speed limits remain unchanged.

In other words, my father could legally drive his 1972 Volkswagen Beetle down the 401 faster than any of us are allowed today.

72 Beetle

In order to remedy this situation, a group entitled stop100.ca is advocating higher speed limits for Ontario’s 400-series highways. Not surprisingly, the Ontario government is idling in response. The Canadian Press summarizes transportation minister Bob Chiarelli’s position:

However, Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli says speed is a factor in 20 per cent of fatal car accidents in Ontario, so the province will not be increasing the highway speed limit.

He says the government “is not inclined in any way, shape or form to increase the speed limits on Ontario roads.”

Chiarelli also rejects suggestions that everyone already drives 120 kilometres an hour on highways, and says police are kept busy issuing tickets to drivers caught going that fast.

He says Ontario has the safest roads in North America and intends to keep that record by maintaining the current speed limits.

Let’s take a closer look these claims. Road safety statistics in Ontario are documented in the Ontario Road Safety Annual Report (ORSAR). The most recent published data is from 2008. The following table, found in the 2008 ORSAR, specifies the apparent driver action which took place according to the type of collision that occurred:

As you can see, driver speed was implicated in 13% of fatal accidents – not 20%. But that’s not all. Driving too fast for conditions was the apparent cause for almost half of these speed-related fatal collisions. Common sense should suggest that the speed limit is irrelevant when driving on black ice with tread-worn tires in the middle of an Ontario blizzard. If you isolate fatal accidents caused by driving at speeds greater than the posted speed limit, one can see that it was the apparent cause in 7% of cases. In fact, speeding above the posted limit was to blame for only 0.6% of total collisions. And this includes Sudbury drivers, too:

If diligently driving along a 400-series highway at 120 km/hour isn’t the dangerous calamity that Chiarelli suggests it is, why all the bluster against increasing speed limits? I suspect the transportation minister answers this question when he acknowledges that police “are kept busy issuing tickets to drivers caught going that fast.”

Busy is an understatement. In 2008, the ORSAR indicates that police officers obtained 780,152 speeding convictions. This constitutes 60% of all motor vehicle convictions related to the Highway Traffic Act.

The truth of the matter is that outdated speeding laws create victimless “crimes”. The state then exploits this for financial gain. Of course, this is nothing new. As Murray Rothbard explains in The Case Against The Fed:

(U)nlike private persons or firms, who obtain money by selling needed goods and services to others, governments produce nothing of value and therefore have nothing to sell. Governments can only obtain money by grabbing it from others, and therefore they are always on the lookout to find new and ingenious ways of doing the grabbing.

Issuing speeding tickets for driving at reasonable speeds is one such way. And, as many Torontonians see on their daily commute, legislative gridlock by an obstinate government contributes to the gridlock on our highways.

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  • About Gregory Cummings

    Gregory Cummings writes about Canadian monetary and economic policy. His writing has been featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada and the Ludwig von Mises Institute's Mises Daily publication. Read more.

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