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June 4, 2009

What the feds really say about speeding

I have found that the most reliable way to ensure that someone calls me an idiot is to point out that speeding is a dangerous and anti-social behavior. There is no easier way to attract the epithet of fascist than to support strong traffic law enforcement -- both by police officers and by electronic means.

That doesn't bother me. Sticks and stones, you know. What does bug me is when folks cite such authorities as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to the effect that speeding is just fine and the problem is all those people on the road who are going too slow.

For the record, NHTSA spokesman Eric Bolton said he knows of no data collected by the agency that woulod support tthe proposition that slow drivers are more dangerous than speeders.

Here is a small excerpt of what NHTSA has to say about speeding in its publication Traffic Safety Facts:

Speeding is one of the most prevalent factors contributing to traffic crashes. The economic cost to society of speeding-related crashes is estimated by NHTSA to be $40.4 billion per year. In 2007, speeding was a contributing factor in 31 percent of all fatal crashes, and 13,040 lives were lost in speeding-related crashes.

The total economic cost of crashes was estimated at $230.6 billion in 2000. Motor vehicle crashes cost society an estimated $7,300 per second. In 2000, the cost of speeding-related crashes was estimated to be $40.4 billion — $76,865 per minute or $1,281 per second.

Speeding reduces a driver’s ability to steer safely around curves or objects in the roadway, extends the distance necessary to stop a vehicle, and increases the distance a vehicle travels while the driver reacts to a dangerous situation.

So if any folks want to make the case that speeding is safe, I recommend a good round of name-calling. That really is the best they got.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:38 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads


C'mon, you know this is a disingenous argument - "speeding is unsafe". Going 1 MPH over the speed limit is unsafe? Depending on the road, the traffic, the driver, the weather, and the posted speed limit, "speeding" 10 MPH over the limit may be statistically not one bit less safe in a given circumstance, and depending on conditions, actually going at the speed limit may be unsafely speedy.

You know, I-695 would be safer if the speed limit was 45 MPH, strictly enforced. It would be safer still if it was 35 MPH. Why do we even set speed limits higher than that at all? Injuries and fatalities would surely drop.

Contrary to some posters, I'm making the assumption that you're an intelligent and educated person. You have to know that simply exceeding a somewhat-arbitrary legal speed limit by any amount at all is not always "dangerous and anti-social". Why make such an overly-simplified comment?

And, I don't think anybody is saying that a slow driver operating by themselves on a road is more dangerous than a fast driver by themselves. I don't recall where I saw it, but I have seen that speed variances from the "prevailing speed" are what's least safe - for a pack of cars smoothly moving along at 60 MPH, a car trying to go 45 causes as many problems as somebody trying to go 75. I honestly don't think a group of well-behaved and cooperative drivers at 65 MPH is significantly less safe than the same group at 55 MPH.

It's all a balance between efficiency and safety - if safety was all that mattered we'd all be driving 25 MPH everywhere (or walking!)

Your own paper caused quite a stir when it ran a story about the State's chief traffic czar who is respected around the nation, when he said that many roads in MD had speed limits set too low for political reasons (i.e.$$$$$$) rather than safety reason. I seem to recall that the Gov. was a little irritated by that story. The Traffic Chief stated that the speed limit on I-695 should be raised to 60 to comply with the 85 percentile rule. You can look it up in the Sun's archives. When the speed limit on I-95 was raised from 55 to a more realistic 65, the number of fatalities went down becuase more drivers were driving between 60-70 (the same speed) and fewer were driving above 75 and fewer were driving below 60. Everyone driving at the same speed (realistic one) saves lives.

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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