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Transportation minister urged to increase speed, bring back photo radar

Published July 15, 2014

An open letter to Steven Del Duca

Dear Minister Del Duca:

Congratulations on being named Transportation Minister in the Cabinet of Premier Kathleen Wynne. I wish you the very best of luck.

As MPP for Vaughan, I imagine you own and drive your own vehicle. You’ve undoubtedly done lots of driving around your riding and the GTA generally.

Unlike some of your predecessors, then, who all seemed to talk an awful lot about subways and electric trains, I suggest this might make you a little more sympathetic to the plight of the drivers in this province.

I know you have an interest in highways because, according to your bio, you are the politician responsible for getting the Highway 427 extension approved. So, on behalf of the millions of car, truck, motorcycle and RV owners in Ontario, I say thank you for that.

Now that we’re friends, though, we must have a serious talk.

Please don’t roll your eyes (as some of those predecessors were wont to do when this subject came up previously) but you really have to do something about the 100 km/h speed limit on the 400-series highways. It is too slow and that is dangerous and the time has come to stop talking and start doing.

I know there was a general poll taken the other day that showed about half of the people in Ontario want the limit increased and half don’t.

RELATED: Should Ontario raise the speed limit on 400 series highways?

Minister, I couldn’t care less about what the general population thinks; I know very well what drivers who actually use the 400 highways think, because they vote with their speed, and just about everybody’s going faster than 100.

Highway 407 goes through your constituency. It’s a safe bet that you’ve driven on it. You know very well, then, that at least 95 per cent of the drivers on the 407 are breaking the law by driving faster than 100.

(Dare I suggest that, on occasion, you might even have gone a little faster than the posted speed limit? Or am I being presumptuous?)

I drive on the 407, frequently. I sometimes amuse myself by setting the cruise control at, or just above, the limit and then counting the cars that pass me. A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about doing this one Saturday when I went exactly 100 km/h, and I was the slowest car on the road. I went from Highway 410 in Mississauga to Highway 404 in the middle of Toronto and it was no contest. I should have been pulled over for driving too slowly.

When I first learned to drive way back when, the speed limit on big highways like the Queen Elizabeth Way (two-lanes wide in both directions!) was 70 miles per hour (113 km/h). In the mid-1970s, when the U.S. imposed its 55 mph limit because of the energy crisis, Ontario lowered the limit to 60 mph. When we went metric in 1977, that 60 mph became 100 km/h.

It’s been 100 ever since.

Norris McDonald along the 404 southbound lanes, July 8, 2014. Norris argues for 120 km/h speed limits in Ontario and the return of photo radar.

Minister, it’s nearly 40 years later. Road design and construction have improved dramatically (lanes are wider, there are barriers in the medians, rumble strips, paved shoulders and so-on).

When it comes to vehicle safety (shoulder harness, air bags, collision warning sensors, etc.), cars and trucks manufactured today make the ones built 40 years ago (lap belts, period) look like death traps.

Because of those huge strides made to create safer roads and safer vehicles, the speed limits just about everywhere have been increased. But not Ontario’s.

Why?

We’re not stupid. We know it’s because of the money.

The 100 km/h speed limit is a licence to print the stuff (it’s really like shooting fish in a barrel) and when you’re a cash-strapped government trying to make ends meet, it’s millions of dollars in fines that you don’t want to give up.

So today, I’m making you an offer you can’t refuse. It’s a classic negotiation, in that I want something from you and I have to give you something in return. Trust me: you’re going to like this.

I am urging you to increase the speed limit on the 400-series highways to 120 km/h and, in return, I suggest you bring back photo radar.

If you do that, I promise to personally go up to Vaughan when the next election rolls around and campaign for you as being the “driver’s champion.”

Now, there are some people out there who will argue that 120 is as arbitrary as 100 and that the limit should be higher. And I agree — to a point. On sections of the 401, say, west of London or east of Kingston, where the traffic is lighter, particularly at night, 130 or even 140 km/h is closer to the norm. I know; I’ve been there.

But to demand the limit be raised to 130 would be just too big an increase all at once, and I want to succeed in this appeal, so 120 would be fine with me — as I’m sure it would for the majority of drivers who use the 400 highways.

Why photo radar? That hated cash grab instituted by Bob Rae and killed by Mike Harris about a minute after he became premier (which, in my view, is a major reason why he won two majority governments)?

Because it would free up police to do things other than sitting on the side of the road with a radar gun, which is a colossal waste of time.

When you’re stuck doing that, you’re not cruising about and catching drivers doing some of the really stupid things drivers do on our highways (like texting, or making a general pain of themselves by ducking in and out of traffic).

Add up the monetary total of photo radar and officers handing out tickets for distracted driving and careless driving, and chances are you’ll soon be raking in more money than you are now.

And, as I explained above, in order to get something, you have to give up something, and photo radar will let the government continue to generate revenue from real speeders. Somebody going 110 km/h is not really “speeding” in my book, but an argument could be made that somebody going 130 (80 mph) is.

If you bring back photo radar, be strict about it. None of this “traffic flow” nonsense (allowing the police to determine what’s legal one day and not legal the next).

If a car is going 121 km/h after you raise the limit to 120, the flashbulb should pop (that’s how you knew back in the Bob Rae days that you were going to get a ticket mailed to you) and a $50 fine imposed. 122 = $60. 123 = $70. And so-on.

Zero tolerance.

Allow me to finish by telling you a little story.

I won’t embarrass him by identifying his location, but I was pretty good friends back in the photo radar days with an OPP officer who worked at a detachment out in the boondocks. He was a great guy and a great cop.

One day, he received notice that he was being transferred to head office in Orillia. He was married to a school teacher, so he had to commute. Being off-duty, he had to drive his own car. One weekend, he came to a party at my house and spent much of the evening complaining about the 100 km/h speed limit.

“It’s awful,” he said. “It takes me forever to get home on Friday night and forever to get back to Orillia on Sunday night. At 100 km/h, it’s impossible to make any time.”

“Welcome to the club,” I said.

Minister Del Duca, we’ve all heard the arguments. Please don’t write me back and trot out chestnuts like “speed kills” (if that’s really the case, lower the limit to 50 km/h and nobody will die on the road). Or that, “if you raise the limit, people will still drive above it” (that’s why you have my permission to bring back photo radar).

An increase to 120, with photo radar to enforce that limit, is a reasonable compromise.

Please think about it, Minister, because it’s a win-win. What politician doesn’t like those odds?

And your boss could even claim credit. For her, it would be a Wynne-Wynne.

P.S. As you can see by the photograph with this article, I’m ready to help you change that middle zero on all those road signs to a 2. All you have to do is call.

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