November 13, 2019

The Netherlands Slowing Highway Speeds to Limit Nitrogen Oxide Emissions


Last week I attended the International Road Safety Symposium that was hosted by UBC’s Integrated Safety and Advanced Mobility Bureau as well as by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. This team brought in practitioners from Australia and the Netherlands, where policy work and research mirrors or is ahead of our local policy. A mix of physicians,  police officers , engineers and consultants presented and debated current issues and trends in road safety and active transportation, providing a very thoughtful discussion on how to make streets and roads safer for all users.

Speaker Dr. Fred Wegman is an emeritus professor of traffic safety at Delft University of Technology and is the individual credited with the development of the “safe systems” approach, “based on the principle that our life and health should not be compromised by our need to travel. No level of death or serious injury is acceptable in our road transport network.”


It was Fred  that described the tremendous gains in the Netherlands where there has been a 49 percent reduction in fatalities/serious injuries with the safe systems approach. He also noted the importance of reducing speed as a basic tenet for safety, and that politically elected officials would not be reducing speed to save lives, but would be doing it for basic sustainability reasons. And tied into a greener, cleaner environment and the future, such speed reductions would be accepted nationally.

We didn’t need to wait long to hear the result of Fred’s prediction. The BBC News has just reported that  in 2020 “the daytime speed limit on Dutch roads is to be cut to 100km/h (62mph) in a bid to tackle a nitrogen oxide pollution crisis” 

This information is still confidential, but the disclosed report suggests that the current speed limit of up to 130 km/h would be allowed only in  the night hours.

The Netherlands has been trying to deal with nitrogen oxide emissions that under European law must be mitigated before roads, housing and airports are built.  With a plan to provide 75,000 new dwelling units in 2020, the Dutch government has proposed the lower daytime highway speeds, and also considered a ban on vehicles on Sundays.

The lowering of  daytime speed will reduce auto emissions, although the more congested cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht will still need to find other ways to reduce emissions. The lower daytime speed limit of 100 km/h will make the Netherlands’ daytime highway speed the lowest in Europe, “on par with Cyprus.”

No word yet how such a policy could impact travel in North America, or factor into reducing nitrogen oxide emissions.

forced perspective photography of cars running on road below smartphone

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on

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  1. We probably only have a handful of highways with speed limits over 100km/h.
    The Province rolled back speed limits (other than the Coquihalla which has variable limits) in Nov 2018:

    Speed limits are being rolled back by 10 km/h on the following highway corridors:
    Highway 1: Cowichan Bay to Nanaimo — 90 km/h to 80 km/h
    Highway 1: Whatcom Road to Hope — 110 km/h to 100 km/h
    Highway 1: Boston Bar to Jackass Mountain — 100 km/h to 90 km/h
    Highway 1: Tobiano to Savona — 100 km/h to 90 km/h
    Highway 1: Chase to Sorrento — 100 km/h to 90 km/h
    Highway 3: Sunday Summit to Princeton — 90 km/h to 80 km/h
    Highway 7: Agassiz to Hope — 100 km/h to 90 km/h
    Highway 19: Parksville to Campbell River — 120 km/h to 110 km/h
    Highway 19: Bloedel to Sayward — 100 km/h to 90 km/h
    Highway 97A: Grindrod to Sicamous — 90 km/h to 80 km/h
    Highway 97C: Merritt to Aspen Grove — 110 km/h to 100 km/h
    Highway 97C: Aspen Grove to Peachland — 120 km/h to 110 km/h
    Highway 99: Horseshoe Bay to Squamish — 90 km/h to 80 km/h
    Highway 99: Squamish to Whistler — 100 km/h to 90 km/h
    Highway 99: Whistler to Pemberton — 90 km/h to 80 km/h

  2. It all depends on police enforcement – we’ve seen in major cities where police turn a blind eye to traffic violations, most notably in Toronto where it was official but undeclared policy, resulting in many more accidents and pedestrian injuries & deaths. Speed limits are only the first half of the equation.

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