Are lower speeds keeping Ontario highways safe?

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Ontario Highways

Are lower speeds keeping Ontario highways safe?

The scene is familiar to some and all to real to others. A car quickly cuts in front of you and thunders down the highway, darting and weaving through traffic in an effort to shave seconds off their commute. You’re annoyed at first. You long for the scream of a police siren to see this speeder pulled over in the near distance.

But your tone changes. You slowly pass the scene of an accident and a mangled car wedged between a truck and the concrete median. Sure, moments ago the driver annoyed you, but now, they’re a fellow human.

Nobody enjoys witnessing, or even worse, being in a vehicle collision. These types of accidents are tragic, they tug at our humanity and empathy, especially when they could be avoided. Intoxication, recklessness and generally unsafe driving are all dangerous variables when it comes to highway collisions in Ontario. And speed is no different.

Ontario highway speeds remain unchanged for over 40 years, but it wasn’t always this way. Prior to the 1973 energy crisis, the province kept pace with other municipalities with highway speeds of 110 km/h. With the energy crisis in full effect, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation reduced the speed limit to 100 km/h in an effort to save gas and oil amidst the worldwide shortage. Highway speed limits in Ontario remain the same ever since.

Since early 2012, a small group of concerned drivers started an online petition to increase the speed limits on all Ontario highways to at least 120 km/h. This movement spurred both praise and criticism from fellow motorists, government officials and the media at large.

Given the recent conversation, should Ontario raise highway speed limits?

Those in favour:

  • 85% of drivers are travelling over the 100 km/h speed limit
  • Shorter commute times
  • Less stop-and-go traffic
  • Less police enforcement required
  • Less accidents overall

Those opposed:

  • Chance that drivers will go over the new limit out of habit
  • Increased severity of accidents due to increased speed
  • Poses more of a danger to road workers
  • More difficult for police officers to enforce traffic safety
  • Increased risk to those parked on the shoulder

The average speed limit in Canada is 105 km/h, which is considered slow when compared to the rest of the world. Take a look below at some other highway speed limits in other countries.

Argentina 120–130 km/h
Belgium 120 km/h
Germany 130 km/h
Ireland 120 km/h
Macedonia 130 km/h
Russia 110 km/h
Sweden 110-120 km/h


Provinces such as British Columbia (B.C.) and Quebec recently addressed this issue. At the end of 2003, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation examined a report that outlined the need to increase its maximum highway speeds to 120 km/h. The provincial government in Quebec is currently experimenting with different sets of speeds on separate stretches of highway.

Should Ontario follow their examples?

Things to think about:

  • Physics dictates that the faster an object is moving, the more severe the collision will be. However, for the most part, everyone is moving in the same direction on the highway, as opposed to city streets.
  • Some municipalities throughout North America increased their maximum highway speeds and none have reported an increase in speeding on those stretches of highways.
  • While it’s true that everyone going the same speed would reduce the amount of vehicle collisions overall, it doesn’t take into account highways that are under constant construction, are narrowed to less lanes than usual, or are otherwise being used for car pool lanes, etc.
  • Speed isn’t the only component of a vehicle collision. Other factors could include: fatigue, distracted driving, multi-tasking, physical limitations, weather, vehicle maintenance, amongst others.

Perhaps Ontario is ready for change on its highways, perhaps not. What’s important is for us to keep talking about the issues in order to keep Canada looking towards a safer tomorrow.