Bob vs. Speeders
Bust Bob's Chops

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© 1999 Brian F. Schreurs
Even we have a disclaimer.

Bob is an integral part of "discomBOBulated."
On March 16, 1999, Bob Levey said:

"About 4 million people speed each year along Interstate 95 between Richmond and Arlington... I'm horrified by that nine-digit number."

It's easy to say there's oh-so-many speeders and they're all bad bad bad. It's hard to think about what might be causing the speeding, and so that's why the discussion rarely gets that far.

Let's just look at interstates; that's what most people are worked up about anyway, even though it's also the type of road with the least danger in speeding. After all, everyone is going approximately the same speed, there is no cross traffic or lights, and the route is without sudden curves or blind spots.

The very informal survey guesstimated 4 million speeders along about 90 miles of interstate. No one should be surprised by this seven digit number because the piece of interstate in question is posted variously at 55 mph and 65 mph. That number is probably low.

People tend to drive at the speed which is comfortable for them. Most people tend to be comfortable at between 70 and 75 mph. After two decades of totally meaningless 55 mph speed limits, it should come as no surprise that the majority of drivers don't even think twice about ignoring whatever those little white signs have on them.

Speed limits used to be an advisory. And in most of the rest of the country, they are again. The normal speed limit is 70 or 75 mph almost everywhere, with particularly dangerous stretches reduced accordingly. Some states even have variable speed limits which change for weather conditions. Great!

But here in Washington the speed limit remains at 55 mph. It is a feeble attempt by bureaucrats to reduce travel speed. And a totally arbitrary speed law will no more work than any other totally arbitrary law. The common citizen dismisses the law and it becomes the butt of jokes. The feeble enforcement does nothing to slow the speed of traffic but certainly engenders bitterment toward the police.

Around here, for half the day it is impossible to go 55 mph, due to congestion; the rest of the time 70 mph is the rule. Every driver knows this. Speedtraps are seen as a source of revenue for the states, not as a means of traffic safety. And those few who desperately try to obey the law become serious hazards for both themselves and others.

This safety issue should be enough to motivate the states to raise the limit to 70 mph. Obviously enforcement is a total failure; 25 years of the double-nickel and compliance remains a joke. Better to raise the speed limit, so drivers can watch the road conditions rather than the median for cops. NHTSA information bears this out: Federal surveys in 1997 showed seven times as many traffic fatalities on highways posted at 55 to 65 mph than on highways posted above 65.

Of course, the safety benefits aren't so much from cop-watching as they are from relative speeds. Those few who try to travel at or near the speed limit, and especially those who do so anywhere besides the far-right lane, create a hazard of their own. Faster traffic must slam on the brakes and pass, usually both to the left and right. This dramatically increases the chances of someone making a mistake. By making it unambiguously clear that slower traffic -- all slower traffic -- must keep right, dangerous maneuvers are reduced.

Accident rates per million miles driven are at an all-time low. That the number of accidents goes up from time to time indicates only that the number of miles driven is on the rise. And there is a direct correlation between miles driven and gas prices. So, to reduce traffic accidents, don't lower speed limits... raise the price of gas. But you didn't hear that from me.