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June 3, 2009

The speeding debate goes on

Excessive speed on the highways is dangerous -- to the speeder and to others. That's not Maryland law. That's the law of physics.

Nevertheless, there are some who continue to argue against speed enforcement, such as that praised on this blog Tuesday night, with all the vehemence of the "birthers" who continue to argue that President Obama is not a citizen.

Anyway, I enjoyed the outpouring of response to my approval of the tough enforcement being cariied out on Interstate 95 -- even if much of it consisted of negative evaluations of my intellect.

But let me clarify a few issues:

--The primary traffic law enforcement agency on that stretch of I-95 around Caton Avenue is, as several readers pointed out, the Maryland Transportation Authority Police. It's a full-fledged, armed, professional police force with a wide range of responsibilities. Transportation authority police officers do not have jurisdiction over the city streets in Baltimore, so when they "flood the zone" on Interstate 95, it subtracts nothing from the safety of Baltimore.

--Good, strict traffic enforcement is good, strict law enforcement. Period. Traffic stops have proven to be extremely effective in interdicting shipments of illegal guns and drugs. Each traffic stop creates an opportunity to see whether there is an outstanding warrant against the driver. Certainly abusive traffic stops have been made, but that's a reason to eliminate the abuse, not the legitimate stops where there is probable cause.

--Maryland does not have a law requiring motorists to drive on the right, pass on the left. The General Assembly regularly considers such proposals and rejects them. So the police can't enforce a law that isn't on the books.

--Motorists who drive far below the posted speed limit on an interstate highway are indeed a menace. They should be pulled over, ticketed and admonished to use non-interstates if they can't keep up  the speeds there. However, the person driving at the speed limit is not a menace simply because they offend some lead-footed driver's notion of what the speed limit should be.

--There are far fewer slow menaces on the road than there are fast menaces. I'd put the ratio at about 50-1 on the too-fast side.

--When the United States adopts the strict driver's licensing and training imposed by Germany, then we can start talking about how safe the Autobahn is. The main reason the Autobahn is  relatively safe is not the high speeds; it's the lack of American drivers.

-- It would be great to see just as many flashing lights out there tonight. You don't like traffic stops, don't speed.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:43 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: On the roads


No doubt one of the reasons that the Autobahn is safer is because drivers are required to stay to the right except when passing.

Every year we drive I-95 down to Florida, and throughout the trip I'm always struck by how smoothly things go - people stay to the right, pass if necessary, then get back over to the right. If I'm in the left lane passing people, and somebody comes up fast behind me, I move over to the right at my first chance and get out of their way.

There's a weird streak of stubborness, or maybe vigilanteeism, that causes some drivers to drive in the left lane with cars stacked up behind them. Whether they're a "slow driver" or just not speeding as fast as other drivers, it's definitely a dangerous practice.

Seriously, why should I care if somebody coming up behind me wants to go faster than I am? Even if I'm already doing 75 and they come up on me, I smile and get out of the way, as I'd rather them be on their way than on my bumper. No harm, no foul.

There are also the various traffic laws concerning the Autobahn, such as it being a felony to fail to yield to a faster car. Why a felony? Because of the accidents that could be caused by the faster driver trying to get past the slower one who fails to yield.

I lived in West Germany during the 1974 oil crisis. Like the U.S., Germany tried to impose a general speed limit on the Autobahn. They couldn't because of public outcry. One of the slogans was "A Free People has The Right To Drive Freely." So they passed an 'advisory' speed limit, saying "Hey, guys, you shouldn't have to drive more than 100 kph, but if you do we won't do anything to you."

As for "strict drivers licensing and training," the German Auto Club did a survey and found that over 30% of drivers "would do anything they could to avoid being passed by a car of the same make and model." That included running the other driver off the road, as a German co-worker bragged to me about doing.

I hope things have improved.

I have a motto when driving. Treat others as I would want me and family members to be treated. That means following the speed laws and common courtesy. Not all drivers are perfect, but it's not worth my stress and blood pressure to get upset. It's also not worth my and others safety.

A few years back, I drove from Baltimore to the Jersey Shore for Memorial Day weekend via I-95. I was expecting a long day with traffic backups. But with state troopers located every few miles the drivers were well behaved, we all moved at a nice pace, and got there without one backup. Coming home after that weekend, fewer if any troopers equaled more backups, more nut jobs, more close encounters and more stress. I'll take the first part any day!

Mr. Dresser:

Your ignorance of the bigger picture can not be overlooked. Your quote, " Transportation authority police officers do not have jurisdiction over the city streets in Baltimore, so when they "flood the zone" on Interstate 95, it subtracts nothing from the safety of Baltimore." truly reflects your ignorance of some basic facts.

While you are correct that the MDTA police do not have jurisdiction out side of 95 and 895 in the City, they are also responsible for the policing of the light rail, subways, buses, the Port and BWI. Currrently, Baltimore City, Baltimore County and AA County police departments must use patrol personnel to monitor MTA park n rides, light rail stations and subway stops because there are not enough MDTA police to stop the thugs that hang out on these transportation links. If MDTA Police have enough police officers, that it takes 8 or 9 of them to stop one vehicle for a "suspision" of drugs, then that's 7 officers too many that could be riding a subway train, light rail train or sitting in the Timonium park n ride to stop all of the vandalism and stolen cars. And let's not forget the Port where every study shows that we are still very vulnerable to terrorist activities. I'd rather see these 7 officers making a full inspection of cargo versus a drive by.

Another irresponsible statement on your part-----"There are far fewer slow menaces on the road than there are fast menaces. I'd put the ratio at about 50-1 on the too-fast side." is not based on any fact, but your made up opinion. If you would bother to look at the NHSTA web site, you'd see that more drivers cause accidents by driving under the speed limit than over, that's a fact.

So do your homework.

COMMENT: The poster is incorrect in his description of the jurisdiction of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police. That police force does not have jurisdiction over Maryland transit facilities (buses, Metro, light rail). That is the job of the Maryland Transit Administration Police -- a separate entity. The authority police do have jurisdiction over the port and BWI.

I did a little homework on NHTSA and speeding. This is a little of what the agency has to say on the subject:

"Speeding is a contributing factor in about one-third of all fatal traffic crashes in the United States and
costs society an estimated $40 billion annually.1 Speeding dilutes the effectiveness of other priority
traffic safety programs, including efforts to reduce impaired driving, increase safety belt use, and
improve pedestrian and motorcycle safety. Speeding and speed-related crashes occur on all road types,
from limited-access divided highways to local streets. Drivers speed in all types of vehicles. Speeding is
a local, State, and national problem."


"Speeding affects both the probability of a crash and the severity of injuries produced by a crash. Some
research documents indicate three effects of speed on crashes and injuries. First, the probability of a
crash increases substantially as a vehicle’s travel speed increases.9 Other research indicates, the
probability of a crash increases as a vehicle’s travel speed rises above or falls below the average travel.10
Third, in a crash, injury severity is proportional to the impact forces on a person, which in turn are
related to the square of the change in speed."

I am unfamiliar with the assertion that more crashes are cause by slow driving than speeding. If such an assertion is made by NHTSA, I have been unable to find it.

Yep, in a police state everybody behaves themselves (and as a bonus the trains run on time.) Maybe we should triple or quadruple the size of our police forces and have them camped out along all roads all the time, so everybody behaves themselves.

You know what would work even better and cost less - install traffic and crime-deterrent cameras over every square inch of everywhere, then people will really be well-behaved. Or how about constant satellite survelliance of every individual citizen, from the moment they walk out of their door until the moment they come home at night. I'll bet we'd reduce all crime by a whole lot. Bonus - fewer traffic jams.

If you would bother to read COMAR, you'd know that the MDTA Police may assist the MTA Police at any time. Since the MDTA appears to have excess officers, some can be shifted to the MTA to help them and free up local law enforcement to fight crime. Obviously you have never had a crime committed against you or you'd better understand what the PRIORITIES of the police should be.

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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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