Focus on the Most Dangerous Road Users

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published August 30, 2012

Following up on the recent RTH blog post about the Coroner's Report on cycling, I read this article from the Toronto Star on the National Motorists Association complaining about speed limit enforcement in Ontario:

The self-described drivers' rights organization runs the National Speed Trap Exchange website, which allows the public to post locations and descriptions of apparent speed traps.

In other words, it is a group that helps motorists to avoid being caught breaking the law!

I am always mystified by the repeated complaint that cyclists are dangerous scofflaws who should be kept off the road, while motorists are careful and rule-abiding, when it is obvious that many (if not most) motorists not only regularly disobey traffic laws - especially speeding and traffic lights - but also whine about the unfairness of it all when the police dare to enforce the law. I've been a licensed driver for over 25 years, so I've had a lot of time to see how people really drive!

It should also be glaringly obvious that a motorist doing 70 km/h in a 40 km/h school zone is far more of a menace than a cyclist gliding through a stop sign, which seems to be what gets a lot of motorists worked up.

Please remember that motor vehicle collisions cause 2,000 deaths and 13,000 serious injuries every year in Canada, and 27 percent of fatalities involve speeding.

We already know which road users pose the highest risk to themselves and others. It is natural that enforcement should focus on the most dangerous road users!

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:34:44

I don't know why the "god given right to speed" attitude persists past the age of 16-18 as is sure seems childish.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 11:54:45

Bring back photo radar. It makes roads safer, generates revenue and saves police resources. Pulling over a speeder on a busy highway like the QEW is very dangerous, and police do not always take the risk.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 12:04:52 in reply to Comment 80220

Again photo radar doesn't catch the real bad drivers and you don't get the bad ones off the road because no points are applied (because you can't prove who was driving). They become just another cash grab... we need real enforcement of driving laws and that takes cruisers in traffic, with police willing to pull people over.

Police need to be more than "revenue generators", in fact that is one of the last things they should be.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 13:10:46 in reply to Comment 80223

I was a frequent highway driver when photo radar was in effect. There was a noticeable lowering in the average speeds when it went into effect, and noticeable subsequent rise when it was cynically cancelled as a political sop.

Photo radar isn't intended just to 'catch' bad drivers. It's to create safer overall conditions on our streets, presumably in the same way that video surveillance deters crime.

My observations on average highway speeds before and after photo radar are subjective of course, but I would love to see the stats on accident/injury rates before and after.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 12:16:20 in reply to Comment 80223

Police need to be more than "revenue generators", in fact that is one of the last things they should be.

Which is why we should have robots catching speeders so the police can focus on real police work.

Photo radar is only a cash grab from the perspective of people who think it's their god-given right to speed. Don't want to pay? then don't speed. Seems simple to me.

If catching speeders is not important then why do we have speed limits at all?

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By Van Hagar (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 14:53:08 in reply to Comment 80226

Photo radar drones FTW!

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 11:59:03

The one issue I have with "speed traps" is you don't actually catch the real bad drivers with them, (i.e., tailgaters, lane-weavers, aggressive drivers, oblivious drivers, etc...) you need to actually be in traffic with those offenders to catch them. So speed traps will catch the odd person going ridiculously fast but a lot of the time they catch the person doing 95 in an 80 or 65 in a 50 or the guy that missed the school zone sign or the two block portion of the street where the speed limit drops from 60 to 50(the classic money grab speed trap).

Speed traps are a lazy form of enforcement often setup where they are convenient and profitable not where they are most needed.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 13:07:36 in reply to Comment 80221

Depends where and how you deploy them. Photo radar can be useful in consistent problem areas prone to dangerous speeding to augment police manpower, or they can be abused by being positioned for optimal revenue generation and not necessarily safety. They are a tool and like any tool need to be used correctly, and they are not perfect for every application.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 12:18:42 in reply to Comment 80221

I hate to break it to you, but "people doing 95 in an 80 or 65 in a 50 or the guy that missed the school zone sign or the two block portion of the street where the speed limit drops from 60 to 50" are all bad drivers.

If we let an electronic device catch those bad drivers then the police can spend more time finding the ones that robots can't (tailgaters, lane-weavers, aggressive drivers)

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 16:38:48 in reply to Comment 80227

Well then we should probably all lose our licenses because last time I checked most people cruise our highways at around 10-15 kmh over the limit. And in those cases it is usually the guy not keeping with the flow of traffic who is causing the problems.

But fine, you can have your fantasy world where anyone ever nicked for a 15kmh over speeding ticket is a "bad driver".

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 18:20:51 in reply to Comment 80253

most people cruise our highways at around 10-15 kmh over the limit

First of all, that's not what you originally said.

Second of all, it doesn't matter how many people do it, it is still illegal.

Third, if you don't consider "the guy that missed the school zone sign" (and who presumably speeds past a school) a bad driver, then this whole conversation will likely go nowhere.

There is a widespread sense of entitlement among drivers: "I'm in a hurry so get out of my way." It's funny how everyone is so willing to overlook the breaking of these "little" laws - until a 150 pound bike-and-rider glides through a stop sign at 10km/hr

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 18:10:15 in reply to Comment 80253

Well, in other countries, such as Australia, the UK and France, the police do routinely ticket people for going 10kmh over the speed limit.

Australians seem to be particularly strict in enforcing the speed limit.

In Ontario the police seem to have a tacit agreement with motorists (at least as regards freeways): we'll pretend 100kmh is a reasonable limit since it sounds responsible, but the de facto limit will be 120kmh.

I don't know any other place where there is such a gap between the posted speed and the average speed people drive. I do think that 100kmh is too slow for a freeway like the 400 series, they should raise it to something more reasonable like 120 or 130 (110 during rain and snow) and enforce strictly.

School zones should be 30 and enforced strictly, like in Western Canada.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 14:08:17

Motorized vehicles are the most dangerous on the road and are already the most heavily watched ticketed and fined of all the users. This is not to say that enforcement cannot be enhanced. I would like to see some kind of special constable hired by the police with the lone job of enforcing the HTA. They would not be police officers in the full sense of the word and would not be used to investigate a burglary or accident. They could be paid less and actually be a revenue generator for the city or the province whoever hires them.

I have no problem with photo radar but even more effective is enforcement with unmarked police vehicles. After a driver sees 5 or 6 different kinds of cars have pulled other drivers over any car can be a police car and causes better driving.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 16:01:43

Traffic engineers are taught that enforcement and posted speed limits have a minimal effect on driver behavior. In realty, the geometry of a road controls the speed drivers travel - not what arbitrary speed limit is posted or if there is a cop hiding behind a telephone pole.

For example Linc to Rousseau Street. On the Link - drivers are traveling around 110 because they are on a two lane divided highway and that feels about the right speed. Its posted at 90 - but it was designed for a speed of about 110 or 120 - so drivers are traveling at pretty much the exact speed the road was designed for.

You exit to Rousseau - and all of a sudden there are islands in the roadway, boulevards, trees, curves - drivers immediately know that they are no longer on an expressway and slow down to an appropriate speed.

In contrast - Burlington Street - where I pass a traffic cop pretty much every day. Physically divided or divided by a turning lane, 2 lanes wide each direction, straight, synchronized stop lights / overpasses - yet arbitrarily posted at 50. I feel perfectly comfortable driving around 80 or 90 - so am I a "dangerous" driver? Is it my fault that Burlington Street seems to be posted at 30 or 40 km/h below its design speed? Maybe the colossal potholes warrant a reduced posting?

Or is the cop just set up at an easy spot to cash in? (And yes I do slow down every day at his usual hiding spot - until I'm sure that he's not there).

Comment edited by Simon on 2012-08-30 16:04:48

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By arienc (registered) | Posted September 01, 2012 at 16:10:25 in reply to Comment 80249

Here's the rub.

A motorized vehicle which slows down from 50 km/h to 15 km/h, and then rolling through the intersection is percieved as stopping (at least by the driver) who does experience the sensation of having applied the brakes.

However, when a non-motorized vehicle slows down from 20 km/h to 15 km/h, those who are observing from outside don't perceive the action as stopping.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 16:13:06 in reply to Comment 80249

I agree entirely that proper traffic engineering, not enforcement, is the way to achieve safe streets.

It is clear that many of Hamilton's streets are engineered for higher speeds, and this encourages speeding.

However, just because you feel safer driving faster doesn't mean its safer, especially for vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists.

And your feeling that the road 'should' have a faster speed limit is no justification for breaking the law.

In any case, if motorists were consistent they wouldn't get so upset with cyclists breaking certain traffic laws (like coming to a full stop at stop signs) that are clearly not appropriate for cyclists (see Idaho stop) when most motorists speed most of the time (when conditions permit)!

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By arienc (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 16:20:14 in reply to Comment 80250

Interesting point re: the Idaho stop in conjunction with this article in the Star today exhorting the supposed dangers of coming to a full stop at stop signs. The entitlement of motorists knows no bounds.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 16:35:03 in reply to Comment 80251

Good catch: when drivers are constantly screaming about those irresponsible cyclists not stopping at stop signs, I didn't realize what they really meant was: cyclists should stop, but everyone knows that for motorists they're just a suggestion. And there is yet another one of those angry letters to the editor in the Spec today

From the Star article:

'The vast majority of even our drivers treat stop signs as yield signs, anyway.'

The double standard is breath-taking, especially when you realize that the motorist not stopping poses a far greater risk to other road users than the cyclist, who weighs over 10 times less and has much better visbility (not to mention that it takes much more effort for a cyclist to come to a complete stop at every stop sign)!

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2012-08-30 16:38:28

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted September 01, 2012 at 17:24:32 in reply to Comment 80252

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted September 01, 2012 at 20:53:31 in reply to Comment 80332

Now you're just being an ass. From Kevlahan's bio, "Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design."

And for the record, ten times less than 2000 kg is 200 kg, you know, the weight of a person on a bicycle.

Now please step away from the keyboard before you type any more idiotic things.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted August 31, 2012 at 10:51:51 in reply to Comment 80252

The engineering argument can also be applied to cyclists.

Road networks are designed for cars not bikes. Traffic lights, stop signs, etc are all designed to control the flow of vehicular traffic - strict control of movements, and rigid rules because errors are severe and it's difficult to know what is going on all around a vehicle while you are driving. If roads were designed for cyclists - there would be round-a-bouts and yield signs because without a steel shell, cyclists have a much better awareness of their surroundings, and the consequences of errors are much less.

Therefore, it may be taboo to come right out and say it - but I don't stop my bike at stop signs, because stop signs are for vehicular traffic, and I feel safe slowing to a reasonable speed and blowing through. If I have good sight lines, hell, I might not even slow down.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 09:20:50

In other words, it is a group that helps motorists to avoid being caught breaking the law!

If you don't want people to speed and this causes people to stop speeding, isn't that a positive thing?

This is why I don't understand the logic in ticketing people who warn others of a speed trap. If the police's true goal is to slow down drivers, then the people warning drivers of a speed trap are doing the police's job for them and the people doing the warning should be thanked, not penalized.

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By speed tarp (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 09:24:31 in reply to Comment 80270

Slowing down through a speed trap and then speeding up again is NOT a positive thing.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 10:04:33 in reply to Comment 80271

Slowing down in the first place is.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 10:21:58

If there was sufficient political will to stop bowing down before the driving masses and actually enforce speed limits, you wouldn't need more cops or photo radar: you just need a few more stationary cameras and simple math.

We're already used to seeing MTO traffic cams tell us what highways are gridlocked, but it wouldn't be a huge technological leap to use a similar type of system that the 407 uses for billing in order to ding speeders on the 400-series highways.

A hard average speed limit of, say, 120km/h could be enforced by noting the times and distances travelled by cars along the highway and billing the car owner, like photo radar. Sure, you're gonna speed up to 130km/h to pass some truck, but as long as you stay under the average over a 2 or 3km zone, you'd be fine.

I tend to prefer this method because its blind, fair, automatic, and provides 100% assurance to drivers that they will be dinged. Plus, it frees up traffic cops to focus on other infractions or duties.

And Nicholas, it's not just drivers that are upset about cyclists breaking "certain traffic laws"; some of us peds have a hate-on for them too. With all due respect to the dozen or so responsible cyclists who all seem to congregate on RTH, many of your two-wheeled brethren in this town have been a public safety menace ever since they cowardly decided to shift the risk for using roadways from themselves to pedestrians. I understand that the roads in Hamilton are dangerous to cycle on, but that's no excuse to put pedestrians at risk by treating already narrow sidewalks as bike lanes.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 31, 2012 at 11:46:54 in reply to Comment 80286

Love the average speed idea.

Agree that cycling on sidewalks is the worst thing a biker can do - for themselves and for others. Blow stop signs all you want (as long as there's no other traffic waiting) but STAY OFF THE SIDEWAKLKS!!!

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted August 31, 2012 at 20:56:27

I still don't accept that it's fair to compare drivers speeding and making French stops to the way cyclists flout the law. Every day's commute (by bike) brings me fresh examples; this afternoon's was my pacing a spandex-clad, toe-clipped middle-aged road warrior from Mac through Westdale, watching him run four-ways with and without cars waiting, jumping queues at stop lights, running a red, turning without signalling - everything but ride on the sidewalk.

Whether I'm riding or driving, that kind of stuff makes my blood boil. I can only imagine the effect it has on non-cyclists.

I agree that cyclists are less of a danger than drivers due to plain ol' physics. But I perfectly understand why so many drivers are driven nuts by cyclists. The more of us who demonstrate predictable, considerate behaviour, the less cyclists will be despised and disregarded.

Granted: proper bicycle infrastructure in this city will do more for cycling than a thousand law-abiding cyclists. But let's not pretend that a large minority of cyclists aren't agents of chaos on the roads.

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-08-31 21:53:41

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