Here are the two conflicting headlines:
So who’s right?
The media loves spreading the false narrative that speed kills, but also established is the government’s proclivity to spread misinformation. For example, they produced a media release still available on their website promising to increase the speed limit three years ago, but it never happened. (I should really keep a copy of this government release on my dash just in case I ever get pulled over for speeding along that section of highway 97.)
Given the two contrasting headlines, it might be intuitive to assume the Globe and Mail holds the correct version of events, but as the Speed Kills your Pockebook video rightly points out, increasing the speed limit can actually reduce the number of accidents if the maximum speed is set too low to begin with.
Here are the cold hard facts:
- On seven sections, the rate of speed decreased and crashes decreased.
- On 12 sections, the rate of speed increased and crashes decreased.
- On seven sections, the rate of speed increased and crashes increased.
- On the remaining seven sections, the data shows that the crash rate increased, despite motorists traveling slower than they did before the speed limits were increased.
- In two of the sections with increased speeds and increased crashes, the government has since reduced the speed limits.
Assuming that resetting the two speed limits reversed the damage, only five of the remaining 31 sections (16%) experienced increased speeds and increased crashes.
To fairly assess the Globe and Mail article, three questions need to answered:
- Do faster speed limits correlate with more car crashes?
- Do faster speed limits correlate with more severe crashes?
- Do faster speed limits correlate with higher speeds?
The green areas of the above pie chart (39%) represent to highways where higher speeds correlate with more accidents. The remaining 61% show a direct correlation between higher speeds and fewer accidents.
Why raising the speed limits would reduce the average speeds in 42% of the roads raises a few questions about the quality of the data, or at least suggests that the speed changes were marginal.
But assuming the reduced average speeds were related to increased speed limits, and using the 31 highways were speed limits are remaining higher than before, the pie chart is repeated with the dark areas (61%) representing few accidents and the light areas (39%) representing fewer crashes.
Chalk up a win for the government headline for being the accurate headline. The media headline, by contrast, is meant to fuel the false narrative that higher speed limits not only correlate with higher accident rates, but cause more crashes to occur.
The virtue-signally Globe and Mail goes on to cherry-pick quotes to cement the headline into the reader’s mind. Chief among them is this nugget: “We got an 11 per cent, statistically significant increase in injury and fatal collisions following the implementation of the speed limit increase.”
This certainly puts forward the false narrative that raising the speed limit is a bad idea. Had they done the honest thing by completing the quote, the newspaper would have busted its own pet theory.
The data-driven government media release continues: “The UBC modelling is consistent with the 9% increase the province saw on all other British Columbian highways where the speed limits were not raised.”
In other words, there’s very little difference between roads with increased speed limits and those without increased limits. The two percentage point difference is much smaller than the 11% given by the Globe and Mail, and likely not statistically significant. It could be because of bad weather during the year or it could be the fact that all the highways with increased limits were all in the south where the population is growing much faster.
Furthermore, it does not determine which of the 33 roads saw the increased fatality rates. My money is on the roads where the speed limits have been reduced.
Reading further into the government source shows that it just gets even worse for the Globe’s argument:
The one-year increase on B.C.’s highways is also consistent with the rising crash and fatality rates in places where speed limits have remained unchanged, as more people take to the road with lower gas prices and as distracted driving rates continue to climb. The United States, for example, saw a 14% increase in fatalities during the first six months of 2015. Oregon alone experienced a 59% spike during this period. Sweden – known for having some of the safest roads in the world – saw a 4% increase in the number of fatalities in 2014.
The media plays an important job in society by holding the government to account for its actions, but that’s no excuse to warp reality and produce fake news. All that does is undermine the media’s effectiveness when the government screws up for real.
Higher speed limits do correlate with higher speeds, but the correlation is not as significant as you’d expect with just 58% of roadways showing higher speeds afterwards while the remain 42% of roads saw decreased average speeds.
Research tells us that speed limits should be set at the 85th percentile of traffic. Since raising the speeds decreased the accident rates, most of the limits were set too low.
The fake news media concluded the opposite.