Early data collected by the province shows that crash rates increased in nearly half of the sections of B.C. highways where the speed limit were hiked two years ago.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure released information on Tuesday revealing crash rates were up in 14 of the 33 sections of highway where limits increased in 2014. Crash rates were either down or unchanged in the other 19.

Because of the increase in crashes in 42 per cent of the new speed zones, the province announced it will invest in new safety features in those areas. Features include better signage, new rumble strips, wildlife detection systems and improved markings on the road.

The ministry will also be rolling the speed limit back in two of the sections. Highway 1 from Hope to Cache Creek will return to 90 km/h, and Highway 5A from Princeton to Merritt will return to 80 km/h.

However in the other 58 per cent of zones, crash rates either dipped or remained unchanged, despite the speed increase.

"The Coquihalla from Hope to Kamloops, for example, where the speed limit was increased from 110 km/h to 120 km/h, continues to see the lowest crash rate in the last 10 years," a statement from the ministry said.

The data also showed that the crash rate increased in seven sections where the speed had increased, but drivers were travelling slower than the posted limit at the time of the crash.

"This suggests again that there are many different factors that can lead to crashes and speed is only one of them," Minister Todd Stone said in the statement.

Weather, traffic, alcohol, driver error, wild animals and distracted driving were reasons behind the crashes where drivers were travelling slowly through new speed zones.

Stone said the Ministry research showed distracted driving remains the leading cause of crashes on the monitored sections of highway, and that data from last year shows distracted driving is still on the rise.

Between Nov. 1, 2014 and Oct. 31, 2015, nearly 30 per cent of all crashes in the new speed zones were caused by distracted drivers. Driving faster than the speed limit was only a factor in two per cent of the crashes.

"Once again, this data serves as a reminder for the public to put your phone away while you are driving," Stone said.

"We continue to see a rising number of people being killed or injured while using their phones and driving a vehicle. A text message, a phone call, a Facebook post is not worth your or someone else's life."

Researchers at the University of British Columbia analyzed the data collected by the ministry on new speed zones, but said there was not enough information to determine statistically-significant trends for the sections.

UBC experts have recommended further analysis over a longer period of time, but project that the crash rate will continue to drop.

One UBC engineer told CTV he thought the increased limits were a bad idea.

"We know from many studies and from our study that increasing the speed limit will always lead to an increase in fatal and injury collisions," Tarek Sayed said.

"I think several locations should have a reduction back to the original speed limit."

As the ministry continues to monitor the new speed zones, the province's top doctor is calling for lower speed limits. In March, Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall issued a report on road safety that included reducing the speed limits in municipalities and on treaty lands. 

Kendall's 260-page report claimed that lower speed limits could mean the difference between life and death, saying that a pedestrian's or cyclist's chance of surviving an impact at 50 km/h is only 15 to 20 per cent. The chances of surviving if a driver is travelling 20 km/h slower is 80 to 90 per cent.

With a report from CTV Vancouver's Scott Hurst