Can we make our highways safer?

October 15, 2014   ·   1 Comments

EVEN A SINGLE HIGHWAY FATALITY is one too much, but recent months have brought with them a totally unacceptable rash of deaths on Dufferin-area roads.

At least one of the fatalities was apparently the result of distracted driving, which the Ontario Provincial Police say has overtaken drunk driving as a major cause of road deaths, and that crash and some others have been on five-lane-wide stretches of Highway 10 south of Orangeville, where the road design clearly reduces the risk of head-on collisions.

Obviously, no highway design can be an absolute guarantee against fatalities, particularly when fog or snow intervene, but that can surely be ruled out as a factor in fatalities that occur on five-lane portions of Highway 10  or to the south on 410.

However, it clearly can be a problem on any highway on which comparable traffic loads are crammed on to two lanes, such as is the case on Highway 9 between Orangeville and the Holland Marsh, or on #10 north of Camilla, where suddenly the roadway lacks even the safety margin offered by left-turn lanes at Mono’s 20, 25 and 30 Sideroads.

We suspect that any survey of road deaths in Canada’s 10 provinces would show that they are reduced significantly when a busy highway’s shoulders are paved and signalized intersections have something Dufferin County has at a few places, including the junction of County Roads 109 and 11 – flashing amber lights warning that the green signal is about to change.

For some reason never adequately explained, Ontario’s trunk highways have neither safety feature, but there’s no statistic we know of that proves our point, one reason being that for some reason (potential litigation?) police investigations of fatal crashes that might show a need for improved safety measures are never released to the public.

A classic example of the problem was the recent three-death crash at the junction of Dufferin Road 10 and the Mono-Amaranth Townline, where for some reason a southbound car failed to observe a stop sign. We’re told an OPP report on the crash will go only to local road authorities.

There’s no doubt that a lot of planning and negotiations went in to the decision to pave the full length of the Mono-Amaranth Townline, and there’s similarly no doubt that, as the best route between Shelburne and the west end of Orangeville, it now carries a lot of traffic.

However, there’s precious little evidence that the advance planning included any consideration of the need to improve safety at the three places – 5, 10 and 20 Sideroads – where the Townline meets a paved east-west roadway. Instead, all that has happened since the road was paved was the creation of four-way stops at the other three intersections (15, 25 and 30 Sideroads) where the Townline previously had the right-of-way.

For some reason, four-way stops tend to be installed primarily as a means of reducing speeds or discouraging traffic, rather than as a safety measure.

Just as is the case with five-lane highway designs, four-way stops at busy intersections aren’t a foolproof way of preventing crashes. But with them, a serious crash will occur only if more than one driver fails to observe the stop sign and check for other traffic.

At such intersections, the safety margin after dark can be increased through the provision of good illumination and flashing red lights.

Yet another means of improving road safety would be the replacement of politicized speed limits (those provided in response to residents’ complaints of high traffic volumes on newly paved roads) by limits based solely on road designs and population densities.

Again, the Mono-Amaranth Townline provides a good example of the problem. The 80 km/h speed limit it had as a gravel road has been replaced by limits of 70 north of 5 Sideroad and 60 km/h where, as a county road, it has the highest design standard.

Readers Comments (1)

  1. Dave Clark says:

    I take issue with the writer’s simplistic analysis of why others advocate lower speed limits, “politicized speed limits (those provided in response to residents’ complaints of high traffic volumes on newly paved roads) by limits based solely on road designs and population densities”, and ignores the concept of neighbourhoods, which directly impact the quality of life and property values in rural areas as much as they do in town. “Shortcuts” through residential streets are not tolerated in town – why should they be tolerated in the countryside?

    I advocate raising the speed limits on provincial roads and county to 90km/h, provided that the shoulders are wide enough for pedestrian safety, sightlines for driveways are sufficient for safety and the taxes for residents are reduced to compensate for property value lost by proximity to the road.

    I advocate a reduction of speed limits on rural roads (i.e., gravel or paved, visual obstructions, narrow shoulders, etc.) combined with an increase in enforcement.

    I live on the Mono-Amaranth Town Line, north of the 25th Sideroad. I supported the 70km/h speed limit for the following reasons:
    1. I believe that I have the right to walk my dog in clear conditions without fear of injury;
    2. The new surface invites those inclined to speed to do so and they do. We see this daily in front of our house, where speeds often exceed 90 km/h and some motorcycles race at speeds that appear to exceed 150km/h;
    3. Although paved, the road has no shoulders in some segments and has hills that obstruct the forward vision of drivers and the visual observation distance of a pedestrian. There is little chance to escape from a speeding car or truck that does not see the pedestrian and/or fails to yield the right of way. Both have occurred in my personal experience. Furthermore, for some residents, exiting their driveway is an adventure;
    4. The low speed limit, if enforced, should encourage non-resident drivers to take the county and provincial roads, which should have higher speed limits according to their design.


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