If Transportation Minister Todd Stone was looking to fill up his inbox, he picked the right topic to move on.
Stone's recently announced review of speed limits in B.C. is sure to generate a lot of response.
Everyone with a driver's licence is an expert on speed limits and most are quite ready to share their views.
But the actual setting of the numbers is a process that blends science, engineering and a certain amount of psychology. Nine years ago, the Highways Ministry commissioned some U.S. experts to review B.C.'s limits.
That report has been used to modify the limits around the province since then. Stone is now throwing the topic open to public debate, as far as the long stretches of open road between communities is concerned.
The ministry is careful to use the phrase "speed limit changes," rather than "increases." But there's not much doubt that's what on the agenda on many highways.
The public debate will be partly informed by a popular YouTube video produced by Chris Thompson. (Speed Kills - Your Pocketbook.) More than a million people have viewed his witty case for the argument that it's the speed differential between vehicles, not the speed limit, that's important when it comes to safety.
That's one of the points made by the 2003 study by the consulting company Wade-Trim: "Crashes appear to depend less on speed and more on the variation in speeds. The likelihood of a crash occurring is significantly greater for motorists travelling at speed slower and faster than the mean speed."
Based on years of experience, the firm observed that most people drive at a speed they feel is reasonable, and speed limits that don't fit conditions are ignored by the majority.
Following that precept, it said normally careful and competent behaviour by a reasonable driver should be considered legal. So speed limits should be set so the majority observe it voluntarily and enforcement can be aimed at the minority of offenders.
"The maximum limit should seem high to the majority of drivers, or it is not a maximum limit," said the report.
After reviewing thousands of kilometres of road, the study found that speed limits on rural divided highways with limited access appear to be set too low.
The maximum is 110 km/h and it recommended 120 km/h. But limits in adverse mountainous terrain are too high and should be lowered.
The last time the government started wholesale tinkering with speed limits was in 1997. A number of limits were raised to 100 km/h from 90, since a significant percentage of drivers were already travelling at that clip.
The increases applied to about 4,000 kilometres of highway, with 80 km/h limits going to 90, and 90 km/h going to 100.
The 2003 study went back and checked on some of those roads and estimated that the number of crashes at selected sites decreased by 8.6 per cent and 12.9 per cent.
Also up for discussion in the paper is the radical notion of eliminating speed limits completely on some roads.
Northern B.C. has thousands of kilometres of low-volume highways.
"It is possible that posted speed limits have little impact because they do not provide useful information," said the report. "Considerations can be given to eliminating the posted speed limits."
There would be obvious safety concerns, but the report found no hard data on increased crash rates where it's been done elsewhere.
The idea would be to enact a basic law requiring drivers to observe a prudent speed for conditions, then post signs: "No Speed Limit Ahead, Drive at a Safe Speed for Conditions."
Raising limits would bring B.C. back to the range of where it was 40 years ago. The NDP government of the 1970s matched a continental trend and lowered speed limits across B.C. in 1974. Limits as high as 70 mph (112 km/h) went down to 60 mph (96 km/h).
Just So You Know: May previous column referred to Premier Christy Clark's mandate letter to Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Rustad and said it made no reference to treaty negotiations. In fact, the letter does refer to that issue. My apologies for the error.
Les Leyne covers the legislature for the Victoria Times Colonist. Email: