Opinion » Maxed Out

Speed is not the problem...it's the drivers

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There are a lot of good reasons not to raise speed limits on B.C. highways and much has been written about them since the province announced it was going to set faster speed limits on many highways. Faster limits encourage many drivers who already drive too fast — a slippery concept discussed a few inches on — to drive too faster: grammar critics, take a holiday.

Driving faster, after a point, increases fuel consumption. For something like every 10kph over 100kph you drive, it's like tacking on an extra ten cents per litre to your price of gas. To put that in perspective, a dime-a-litre is about half what the gas companies jack up the price every Thursday afternoon before a long weekend.

Of course this doesn't even touch on the fact it's socially unacceptable to not give a damn how much gas you burn. We're all supposed to be reducing our carbon footprint... or at least wishing we were... or at least wishing someone else would, preferably in a developing, third-world country where all our manufacturing jobs and call centres have ended up.

Personally, I file my gas receipts under "Entertainment" since (a) what I see driving on the highways is pretty entertaining, as long as it doesn't veer into my lane, and (b) I find very few things — high-speed, well-carved turns on good snow — as entertaining as high-speed, well-carved turns on a twisty mountain road, which is to say almost all roads found in B.C.

Doctors and others are worried increased speed limits will mean more fatalities and more severe injuries. It's a well-known, scientific fact that the faster you hit something the worse you'll get hurt. This scientific fact is easily proven with tools as simple as a hammer and a thumb. Since this is a well-known, scientific fact, there are a not insubstantial number of libertarians — right-wing wingnuts — who deny its existence. They do not believe the correlation between speed, impact, and injury and they'll be happy to prove it by hitting someone's thumb, preferably someone from a developing, third-world country, as hard as you want them to and they won't feel a thing, though truth be told they'd rather use a smart bomb than a hammer.

People who care a great deal about animals are worried faster limits will mean more roadkill. Some may see this as a corollary of the previous point — faster speeds, greater injury from impact — but when it comes to cuddly, if wild, animals being hurt, it's kinda hard to reason with them, scientifically or otherwise.

Ironically, if we move a few steps back on the cause-effect continuum, one might argue it is the attitude of such folk that has made hunting just slightly more socially acceptable than, say, child molesting. Just a few decades ago Canadian tourism agencies actually boasted in such august periodicals as National Geographic how great it was to visit Canada, a country so wild and rugged you could have a marvellous time hunting and fishing in the vast Northern Wilderness. No more. So few people hunt that there are great swaths of B.C. where ICBC insurance rates are largely driven by collisions between cars and deer, moose, elk and other sizable ruminants. By and large, people concerned with more animal deaths aren't particularly worked up about the other side of the equation.

What has not been written about very much, possibly not at all, is the best reason not to raise speed limits. That reason is too many B.C. drivers absolutely suck when it comes to driving and maintaining a car and they shouldn't be allowed behind the wheel of anything not pedal powered. Their ignorance regarding the finer points of driving is immeasurable. Their arrogance in believing they can drive is breathtaking. Their ability to concentrate on the task at hand — driving — is miniscule.

But the true culprit behind this carnage-in-waiting is not the multitude of crappy drivers; it's the province's licencing process that allows them to drive in the first place. The guiding principle of licencing drivers seems to be that it is every B.C. resident's right to drive a car, regardless of skill, understanding or training. If pilots were licenced in the way drivers are there'd be planes falling out of the sky like rain in October. If the qualifications to become a chess grandmaster were as low as the qualifications to drive in B.C., anyone who knew how the horsey and castle moved would be a grandmaster.

As it is, if you understand which lever to move and which foot to press down on which pedal to make a car go, you stand a good chance of getting a driver's licence. Answer a couple of dozen see-Spot-run multiple choice questions, drive around a course without destroying too many cones and the next thing you know you're headed up the Sea to Sky on questionable tires in a blinding snowstorm while you text your BFF.

Distracted driving — a misnomer more accurately thought of as headuptheass driving — has eclipsed both alcohol and speed as the proximate cause of what are still euphemistically being called accidents. People doing something other than concentrating on accurately guiding a two-tonne hunk of metal down an imperfect strip of asphalt no wider than a small living room are far more likely to kill you than any of the other bogeymen out there you think of as dangerous.

And those people include all the righteous folk driving exactly the speed limit... in the left lane! They are the poster children for a speed kills campaign except in their case it's too little speed that kills because in their arrogance they piss off other drivers so much those drivers are moved to take chances they shouldn't. Go with the flow, folks, or take the bus.

There is probably nothing less dangerous on the highway than a skilled driver in a well-maintained car with good handling... at any speed. There is probably nothing more rare than those three attributes coming together on the highway either. Eliminate any leg of that stool and you've got a disaster in the making. Even a skilled driver can't push a crappy, worn-out car into a tight, decreasing-radius corner with any certainty of coming out in the right lane or even still on the road. And we have far too many documented cases of crappy drivers reducing exquisite sports cars to scrap in Surrey alone to bother enumerating.

So you might be justified thinking I'm against raising speed limits. Wrong. I'm ecstatic about it. The faster, the better, if for no other reason than it'll take that much more speed before the RCMP can steal my car for a week because I've pushed it 40kph above whatever's posted on that thrilling set of turns on the hill that climbs out of Britannia Beach — you know the one — or sections of the Duffey.

Go fast; have fun; get out of the way... but learn how to drive, not how to move a car.

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