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Traffic on Highway 401 in Toronto. (2012 file photo) (Matthew Sherwood For The Globe and Mail)
Traffic on Highway 401 in Toronto. (2012 file photo) (Matthew Sherwood For The Globe and Mail)

Safety

Can a viral video really get speed limits changed? Add to ...

You’ve probably heard of this because it has gone viral. I am not talking about an infectious agent within living cells, but a propaganda video that might lead to changes in unrealistically low speed limits.

Viral marketing is all about word of mouth as people pass an Internet video on to others so that contagious content spreads quickly. There’s a YouTube video from Vancouver that rang up half a million viewers within three days of being posted and has now reached upward of two million.

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Chris Thompson wrote and produced the 15-minute video titled Speed Kills Your Pocketbook. It’s a well-researched series of arguments in favour of raising speed limits in British Columbia on appropriate roads to make them safer. The video is extremely entertaining and has hit a nerve with audiences.

It begins with an examination of Marine Drive in Vancouver, which is a six-lane road with a divider in a non-built-up area that has a 50-km/h speed limit. Just like sections of Lake Shore Boulevard in Toronto, Marine Drive has an unrealistically low speed limit that few obey, which makes it a favourite revenue trap for police.

It’s easy to find this video on YouTube and you should take a look because it’s difficult to adequately summarize a tightly focused, 15-minute script in a few words here. But to quote a section of Thompson’s script, “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should be able to go as fast as we want or that speeding isn’t necessarily dangerous, but many speed limits are set far too low for conditions, and that seems to be where the majority of the ticketing is.”

There is an online lobby group in Ontario called www.stop100.ca that has signed up 11,000 people to a petition demanding 120 and 130 km/h speed limits on the 400-series highways. This would put Ontario in line with dozens of countries and numerous U.S. states that have set speed limits at these levels to reflect road engineering and the huge improvements in automotive handling and safety in the past two decades.

There is a huge amount of hypocrisy in the setting and enforcing of speed limits in Ontario.

As everyone who drives Highway 400 or 401 knows, there’s a steady stream of cars in the left lane doing 130, and it simply seems tough luck for the unfortunate one in a thousand that gets pulled over.

As the viral video points out, roads are safest when everyone’s travelling at the same speed in the same direction and paying attention. Government accidents statistics quoted in the video show that the various forms of distracted driving lead to far more accidents than speeding.

Speed limits are being reviewed in many jurisdictions. Last week, the state of Utah added 289 miles (465 km) of roads with 80-mph (129-km/h) speed limits. The state’s director of traffic and safety said studies found it would be safe to add the 80-mph zones on many sections of Interstate highways.

There is no evidence that a viral video drove the change in Utah but the growing influence of the Internet on politics is well established. Any serious political candidate worries about getting their YouTube channel up and running before they get into the buttons and lawn signs. Maybe if you’re thinking about fighting that speeding ticket you’d have more of a chance if you posted a good video.

Speed Kills Your Pocketbook is smart enough and funny enough to have an impact on the debate. Whether you’re on one side or the other on the issue, you’ll see the ingredients that make a political video go viral.

Send your automotive maintenance and repair questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com

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