CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

“The Heavy Stuff”

I know we shouldn’t expect too much from outlets like AOL News, but note how this story replicates the classic cultural construct that “drunk driving is a horrible crime” and “speeding is OK and just something for the police to make money off of…”

After discussing how fines are rising for first-time speeding infractions, the article notes:

“Now, for the heavy stuff: drunken driving, known as DUI or DWI depending on your state.”

Speed, presumably, is the light stuff, the frothy romantic-comedy if you will in the pantheon of traffic safety, as compared to the dark tragedy of drunk driving. How light? This from NHTSA: “Annually, about 32 percent of all fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes were speeding-related, i.e., at least one of the drivers involved in the crash exceeded the posted speed limit or was driving too fast for the prevailing conditions.”

Not to mention things like the vast, exponential increase in chance of pedestrian death as speeds move from 20 mph to 30 mph.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, November 6th, 2008 at 11:17 am and is filed under Traffic Enforcement. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to ““The Heavy Stuff””

  1. Vincent Clement Says:

    Come now Tom, I expected better from you.

    Was speeding the only factor in those fatalities? Was it a contributing factor? Or was it one of several factors? Was the person that was killed wearing a seatbelt?

    Further, exceeding the posted speed limit is very different from driving too fast for the prevailing conditions. Many posted speed limits are set artificially below what is reasonable.

  2. Brad Templeton Says:

    I am also curious about what it means for speeding to be a “factor.” Clearly there are intuitive reasons why we might think speeding is dangerous (ie. it is plain physics that tells us you’ll kill more pedestrians hitting them faster.)

    But since in my observation most people speed, of course a large fraction of accidents involve somebody was speeding. I bet a large fraction of accidents involve one of the drivers being overweight.

    But how do we answer this question? We can put monitors on drivers but will we be able to objectively judged “if they had been going slower, they would not have had this accident” or perhaps more easily “This accident would have done less damage” which is easier to credit.

    DUI you can understand. You can figure out what percentage of drivers are impaired, and you can compare that to the percentage of accidents with impaired drivers. It’s harder to figure the percentage of drivers who speed, because that’s very, very high. And perhaps correlated with other factors like caution. And of course many accidents (intersection fender benders) take place in the zone where people are starting and stopping (and thus not speeding.)

  3. Chris Hutt Says:

    From a European perspective there is more to the speeding issue than the extent to which collisions and consequent deaths/injuries become more likely. European towns and cities typically have high numbers of pedestrians and cyclists using the streets and their perception of how ‘safe’ the streets are depends to a large extent on the speeds that prevail.

    With lower speeds more people think it safe to walk or cycle, so more people do which in turn encourages others and reinforces the demand for lower speeds. So clamping down on speeding might be justified as a measure to initiate that virtuous spiral even if it didn’t make any difference to the number of collisions and deaths/injuries.

  4. Mike Chalkley Says:

    A fact that is often quoted by anti-speed camera campaigners (& Jeremy Clarkson – our most respected motoring TV journalist) that ‘speed does not cause accidents’. True – it is not the root cause. Most of the time that is down to people making mistakes.

    BUT – what factors determine if a mistake becomes an accident – speed must be top.

    What factors determins how much death, injury, disability, cost, inconvenience come from an accident – speed again is the major one.

    While speed limits may be set low, they are set for a reason & we will eventually have to concede that our motor vehicles will be unable one day to break these. Whether through internal or external limiting.

    Perhaps this could be led through insurance pricing. Swedish researchers have developed a GPS unit that vibrates the pedals when you exceed a speed limit. This could easily be extended to limiting speed directly. A 2-tier insurance system (low cost insurance for those with limiters – more realistic pricing for those without) would be a start and would allow this to become more acceptable without draconian imposition (at least initially).

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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