View of Highway 401 near Elgin Road (Highway 73) in Middlesex County where an observational study was conducted to estimate the average speed of vehicles travelling in the median (fast) lane.

The OPP reportedly conducted a two-day “aerial blitz” of speeding vehicles along Highway 401 last week. The number of charges are far below the actual number of speeders that could have been ticketed.  It was reported that 72 charges were laid, 38 of which were for speeding. Observations of the speed of drivers conducted by Gorski Consulting indicate that this must have been a very short or very selective enforcement because of the actual number of speeding drivers that actually exist.

In the Gorski Consulting study conducted in November of 2016, near the interchange of Highway 73 east of London, Ontario, westbound traffic was documented with multiple video cameras for slightly less that 8 minutes. In that time 62 vehicles were observed travelling along the fast lane, or the lane closest to the median. Twenty-four, or 39%, of those vehicles were observed to be travelling over 120 km/h. Matching this data to the 38 speeding charges by the OPP, and assuming the location of their blitz was at a similar traffic volume, it would suggest that the OPP observed less than 15 minutes worth of traffic during the blitz. The OPP were quoted as saying this blitz was “designed to increase public compliance with safe driving measures”. This may help to publicize the extent of the problem but the blitz itself is unlikely to have had any effect on the speeding habits of drivers.

The difference in the numbers of observed speeders and what charges were laid outlines an obvious problem about the lack of enforcement of speed limits along Highway 401. The reality is that pulling vehicles over for a speeding violation along the Highway is a dangerous operation that could produce more harm because of the potential collisions that it can cause. While a “move over” law requires drivers to slow down and change lanes away from emergency vehicles the reality is that such changes in speed and direction are themselves the cause of collisions. In many instances speeding drivers cannot change lanes quickly enough because of factors such as visibility problems and traffic density. The sudden reduction in speed of vehicles causes speeding drivers to brake suddenly and cause problems for other speeding drivers around them. While it can be said that this is the fault of those speeders it never-the-less does not prevent the causation of serious consequences.

The other reality is that there is likely not enough police available to deal with the speeding problem.  Enforcement could reduce the speed of vehicles over an extended time when drivers begin to recognize that police are monitoring drivers’ speeds on a regular basis. But this takes manpower that our society is presently unwilling to pay for.

Under these difficult realities technological advances such as the implementation of automatic emergency braking cannot come fast enough, particularly for heavy trucks and buses. While this may not be a panacea in itself, early findings indicate it could make a large difference in the types and severity of collisions that occur on high-speed freeways like Highway 401.