Speed Limits on the 401

I chose this web page as the first one I found with statistics and historical facts on the speed limit on the 401 Highway.

I remember the speed limit being 70 m.p.h. which is roughly 130 k.p.h. I also remember that trucks then had a lower speed limit than cars. I also recall that the trucking industry loudly backed the speed limit reduction, which was not in effect a reduction for them.

We all went down to 60 m.p.h. in 1976, which is a trace below the current ‘limit’ of 100 k.p.h. (some 62 miles per hour, eh?)

The 401 highway (unlike the 407, perhaps) was designed to be safe at the higher speed. In reality police do not, so far as I can tell, enforce the speed limit with exceptions:

  • If you’re weaving in and out, and speeding, you may get a ticket for the speeding, which is an easier, more certain conviction than bad driving.
  • If you’re pushing over the limit in absurdly difficult conditions, same as above.
  • If you’re really flying, even on an open road, you can expect a ticket. Apparently the threshold for this is 20 or 30 kilometres per hour above the posted limit – at least on a 400 series highway.

So, why not increase the speed limit? Revenue. Fines increase with excess speed, and lower limits thus increase the fines that are actually levied.

Who cares? We all should. There should be laws that are enforced, consistently. Speed limits should be set, consistently.

I recall that Road & Track, a US car-buff magazine, recommended setting up a new highway without speed limits. Traffic was monitored for speed, and the 85th percentile was set as the speed limit. This means, 15% were travelling faster than that, and 85% were travelling slower than that. Apparently, most drivers aren’t stupid and in general drive at the speed that they, and the road, can actually handle.

And, should trucks, with their longer stopping distances, have the same speed limit as cars?

2 thoughts on “Speed Limits on the 401

    • So far as I know, the highest speed limit ever anywhere in Canada was 70 mph on the 401. This was a long time ago. The truck speed limit was less, with dual signs: Maximum 70 trucks 60. MPH was assumed by law in Ontario at that time. (KPH has to be on the sign, also by the Ontario Highway Traffic Act.) The trucking industry supported the speed limit decrease to 60 mph and nobody noticed that it did not reduce their speed limit. This was during some sort of oil crisis and was supposed to save fuel. I think about 1970.
      When Canada went metric, close-to kph signs went up. 30 mph is now 50 kph, maybe 31 mph. (rule of thumb: a mile is 1.6 kilometres, a kilometre is .62 of a mile.) At some point the speed limit on the 401 went to 100 kph, which is 62 mph.
      All of Canada is metric now. Our gas is in litres; our paint comes in something like 3.87 litre tins, which is I think a US gallon. (The Canadian/Imperial gallon was larger, maybe 5/4 of a US gallon.) Oddly enough I think our natural gas comes in cubic feet sometimes, and our oil is priced in USD.
      So to recap, 100 is probably kph. If you were to travel at 100 mph here you’d get a ticket for sure. 120 is tolerated in good traffic, but erratic drivers are speed-ticketed and the officer generally says something like, ‘my testimony will be that you were weaving in and out at speed.’ Proving bad driving is hard, but speed tickets are easy. In some ways, I think our police, including the OPP on our 400-series highways, really do have their s..t together.

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