Coq speed limits a slippery issue

With a rural highway speed and safety review due this month, a lot of B.C. motorists had a chance over the holidays to do some white-knuckled research.

Occasionally increasing heart rates more than doctors would recommend, winter highway hazards also offer some timely reminders. There is plenty of room for improvement. Highways Minister Todd Stone can use all the help he can get, because the road he's headed down with this review is full of pitfalls and potholes.

The Coquihalla is a case in point. Mentioning the possibility of increasing the speed limit above 110 km/h elicits a range of responses from applause to dire warnings. How can one speed limit possibly take into account such varied opinions and conditions while encouraging greater safety?

The obvious answer is that it cannot. The Coquihalla is a textbook example of the speed/safety dynamic, which has been cited by the government and the lobby group SENSE B.C. (Safety by Education Not Speed Enforcement) during the review.

The most significant road hazard is created, not by speed itself, but by vehicles travelling at varied speeds. SENSE argues that many drivers ignore speed limits that are set too low, which contributes to speed variability. Logic suggests that raising the limit would reduce the variability and thereby reduce crashes, only it's not that simple.

Lit up like Christmas, taillights were a telltale warning between the Helman Road and Lac Le Jeune exits last Friday, but not enough warning for a few unfortunate drivers. Some slowed down, others sped on. The problem was an all-too-familiar one: As the temperature dropped at dusk, slush quickly turned to ice, creating a deadly and invisible slick. Crashes were the almost-predictable result.

Simply increasing the speed limit wouldn't fix this problem. What's needed is a thorough and site-specific review of the hazards commonly encountered on the route, so that warnings can be more effectively posted.

A one-limit-fits-all approach is dangerous because it leads some drivers to believe that they can proceed accordingly without adequate regard for mountain conditions. While driving in a manner appropriate to conditions applies to all roads, the Coq deserves particular consideration.

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