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If you raise the speed limit but you do not compel drivers to improve their driving skills, then you’re only solving half the problem, writes Andrew Clark.

Patrick Dell/The Globe and Mail

Judging from Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s policies, the average Ontarian has his trunk full of buck-a-beer and can’t wait to get the hell out of the big city. How else to explain his government’s decision to increase the speed limit on three sections of the province’s 400-series highways from 100 kilometres an hour to 110 kilometres an hour? The change isn’t permanent – it’s part of a pilot project that will begin this September. After that, if you’re driving the Queen Elizabeth Way from Hamilton to St. Catharines, Highway 417 from Ottawa to the Ontario-Quebec border or Highway 402 between London and Sarnia, you can put the pedal to the metal.

I think I’m getting chills. Can you feel the driving freedom? Isn’t this how NASCAR began? It reminds me of the lyrics of Tom Petty’s Runnin’ Down A Dream.

“It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down / I had the radio on, I was drivin’ / The trees went by, me and Del were singin’ little runaway / I was flyin'."

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"I was driving the speed limit, which was 110 kilometres an hour.”

The pilot project raises some significant questions, such as: “Why?” “What are you thinking?” and “What’s wrong with you people?”

According to Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek, the pilot “will allow the province to monitor changes in average speed, travel volumes and other factors to determine the effects of an increased posted speed limit in the pilot areas.”

Will it, though?

Anyone who drives the Queen Elizabeth Way from Hamilton to St. Catharines knows that there are only two speeds: “Practically Not Moving” and “Going 130 Kilometres An Hour.” The only people who go the 100 km/h speed limit on the Queen Elizabeth Way are elves riding magic unicorns. It’s not so much a speed limit as a speed suggestion.

The Conservatives say they are responding to a desire amongst voters to increase speed limits and so, the pilot project is in keeping with their predilection to give the people what they want: cheap beer, tailgate parties, and, by way of their cuts to education, blissful ignorance. I’m not sure, however, that a 10 km/h increase is what the public has in mind. If the Conservatives had increased the speed limit to 120, then they might be getting close to the speed motorists desire. If you try to drive 100 km/h on any of Ontario’s 400 series, you will be in jeopardy. You will not keep up with the flow of traffic.

Look, I agree with what appears to be the current provincial government’s opinion of Ontarians – that the vast majority are dimwitted fools, easily distracted by ginned-up pandering, who, in a more civilized age, would be denied the right to vote. I just don’t agree with their solutions.

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If the government wishes to do something productive with the speed limit, they should increase the fine for a first offence to $1000 and then instruct the Ontario Province Police to ticket every single driver on a 400-series highway going over the speed limit. They could erase the deficit on a long weekend. Speeding and stunt driving are epidemic.

Besides, there is already plenty of evidence out there on the effects of 110 km/h speed limits. Six provinces already have it. In British Columbia, you can drive 120 on certain stretches of highway.

The fact is, if most Ontarians were skilled, well-trained drivers you could safely have much higher speed limits. Speed is a factor in collisions, but it is not the defining one. Today’s automobiles are so well-designed and equipped with technology that can prevent collisions, that the vast majority of accidents are caused by driver error. They’re caused by drunk drivers, distracted drivers, and irresponsible and/or angry drivers. There is no limit on irresponsibility. If speed were the single factor, then our cities would be safe from car accidents – and they aren’t.

There’s nothing wrong with raising the speed limit. It makes sense for certain highways. The 100 km/h speed limit is a fairy tale. If you raise it, however, and you do not compel drivers to improve their driving skills, then you’re only solving half the problem. Higher speed limits mean you need better drivers. Why not have all drivers take a winter driving course? Why not force drivers to take a driving test every decade?

Why not? Because that would be wildly unpopular. So, I wouldn’t get your hopes up.

Meanwhile, I wait with bated breath for Ford to announce a “Universal Taco Tuesday” the same day he privatizes ambulance service.

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