Speed Limit 65 Essay, Research Paper
America’s Need For Speed: Let’s Make It Safe
Everyone has been there; you are driving down a four lane interstate highway miles from the nearest community, where you could easily cruise at speeds of seventy-five or even eighty miles per hour, which you feel is reasonable. But you are unable to do this because the speed limit is only sixty-five or maybe even fifty-five and you are afraid of receiving a ticket. The same situation occurs on two-lane semi residential roads where the speed limit is only twenty-five or thirty-five miles per hour. In both situations some drivers agree to obey the speed limit, while others consistently drive at comfortable speeds for them, which usually results in going ten to twenty miles per hour over the posted speed limit. Let’s face it, most of us don’t want to be bothered by constantly checking and regulating our speed, and also by obeying speed limits which are unreasonably low when we have places to go, and need to get there.
The question that needs to be posed is: “How can we properly adjust the speed limits?” It should definitely be a question answered by the individual states themselves. The roadways in different states are so diverse. Some have miles and miles of straight and level stretches, while others have mainly hilly and windy roads. Also the citizens of different states have different driving habits. There are some where drivers just naturally drive very fast. The existing speed limits encourage this kind of gap in speeds, which results in increased accidents. States should be able to increase their limits or keep them the same, or only change their limits on some of the roads. This is where the simplest but most brilliant plan comes in. “The limit should be posted at the speed that eighty-five percent of traffic is traveling,” (Palmaffy, pg. 11) when measured under ideal conditions. Engineers claim that this “eighty fifth percentile speed” is the safest speed at which to travel. People who drive at this speed are the least likely to be in accidents, and those who drive much slower or faster than this are in high risk of being involved in an accident. By this plan the drivers themselves can set the speed limits.
Speed limits are either set by the state or federal government depending on the roadway. Individual states can basically set their own speed limits, but the federal government can control these limits on high-speed expressways by imposing a “National Maximum Speed Limit.” It recently was set at fifty-five miles per hour. This maximum is not mandatory for the states to post, but whichever states would not, had federal highway funds withheld from them. Speed limits are traffic laws placed on drivers for the sole purpose of safety. Traffic laws are created so as to protect drivers and their passengers, and all pedestrians around the roadway. Police officers patrol to issue citations to the drivers who do not follow these traffic laws. The facts are that speed limits which most drivers feel are unreasonably slow and, therefore usually exceed, are harmful for several reasons. They result in more accidents, less respect for police officers, and a generally unhappy public. These results in turn lead to many other problems.
Large variations in vehicles’ speeds pose a great risk to drivers’ and passengers’ safety, because more accidents are likely to occur. When speed limits are posted which most drivers feel are unreasonable they exceed them. But there are always motorists who believe that that should obey them, which they do. This results in a substantial gap in different vehicle’s speeds. “When the speed limit was fifty-five, driver’s weren’t comfortable – some drove at fifty-five, some at sixty-five, and some at seventy-five or above. There was so much difference that accidents significantly increased. When the limit is raised to it’s proper level, the evidence shows, these dangerous variances in speed start to disappear.” (Palmaffy, pg. 11-12) Also, as major interstates with fifty-five or sixty-five mile per hour speed limits begin to be patrolled heavily, many motorists switch onto country roads which will get them where they are going just as fast, and where there is a minimal amount of police. “This substantially endangers safety. The fatality rate is three times higher when you get off the interstates.” (Palmaffy, pg.12) The facts are that many people ignore speed limit signs. A study sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration concluded that regardless of whether limits were raised or lowered, the average traffic speed remained the same. Within a three year period after the speed limits were raised the accident rate actually fell. The difference is that when the speed limit is lowered the drivers know that they are breaking the law by speeding.
After the repeal of the federal maximum last year some states have already increased their speed limits. Montana has even totally done away with its daytime speed limits, and the signs merely read “reasonable and prudent.” Montana state troopers are quoted as saying that accidents haven’t risen since the daytime speed limit has been abolished. The problem is that mostly all states have not conducted studies to conclude what the eighty-fifth percentile of traffic speed is. With the current limit vehicles are still not traveling at the safest speed at which traffic can travel. As the speed limits get adjusted to the proper speeds, more traffic will move back onto the much safer interstates and abandon the country roads and high-speed two-lane highways.
The fact that drivers scoff at speed limit laws and ignore them results in less respect for police officers and established laws. Drivers are unsure of how far they can exceed the speed limit without getting a ticket. If the speed limit is seventy-five, a more reasonable speed, police could say anything over seventy-five will be a ticket. “For the past five years everybody has been going fifteen to twenty miles over the speed limit, including the police. It’s terribly harmful to have a law and not enforce it.” (Palmaffy, pg. 12) By not always enforcing the exactness of the law drivers continue feeling that they can keep stretching it more and more. And it influences public opinion towards other laws also. Now drivers look at the police as mean people who are out to get normal citizens, but in essence everyone is looking for the same thing – people who are driving dangerously. When the signs side with the majority, everybody is satisfied, and police can enforce laws that the public agree with. Everyday drivers voice their opinion for higher speed limits by exceeding them.
Once the speed limits are adjusted accordingly, police can issue citations in a much more orderly manner, and drivers know exactly how fast they can drive without receiving a ticket. They can enforce the exact limit and do not have to give any leeway. This will slowly bring more and more respect to police officers, and the public will realize that they are merely looking out for their safety. Also enforcement can be stricter. If the new laws are strictly enforced, very few motorists will break them because they would be set at reasonable limits. “The notion is that the number on the signs change, but the approximate average of traffic’s speed stays the same, and the slower cars catch up as the faster ones slow down.” (Bedard, pg. 24)
There are also creations that make inadvertent speeders slow down in trouble areas, so that although the speed limit has been raised, drivers still travel at a slower speed when approaching dangerous areas. “The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has come up with an invention that utilizes illusions to make drivers feel like they are going faster than they really are when they are approaching obstacles which require reduced stopping distance or abrupt changes in direction.” (Nikkel, pg. 36) They are very useful in areas such as intersections, bridges, curves, or construction zones. The first two techniques utilize a converging chevron pattern or “rumble strips” which both give drivers the illusion that they are speeding. Another alternative is to have the roadway seem to get narrower, by placing the medians and barriers closer to the roadway. These inventions have already been proven to reduce the number of accidents and have saved many lives.
Opponents to raising the existing speed limits refer to statistics that say, higher speeds mean greater chances of crashing. Studies by The National Highway Traffic Safety Commission (NHTSA) which claim to show that “speed was a contributing factor in approximately thirty-two percent of all fatal car crashes” since 1975, are very misleading. Any time an accident occurs, where any car that was involved in the accident exceeded the speed limit by even one mile per hour, they were included in the thirty-two percent; even if they had absolutely no part in the cause of the accident. No investigator ever visits the scene, and there is no interview ever conducted with the drivers involved. A standardized questionnaire is completed by the police officers involved. The statistics cannot be accurate if they use these criteria to obtain them.
When there are more accidents a “domino effect” of other problems result, such as higher health care costs, more expensive insurance claims, and higher insurance premiums. Once the speed limits are raised to the eighty-fifth percentile everyone will be happy. The public will feel important that they themselves instituted a law democratically just by driving the way they feel comfortable. Police will be satisfied because traffic will be traveling at the safest speed possible, and because there would be no guessing in what excess of the speed limit deserved a ticket. And finally the government would be pleased because of the safety of their roads and that the public is happy with them. The federal maximum on speed limits was a one-size-fits-all rule that just didn’t fit. What the states need to do is conduct surveys to determine the eighty-fifth percentile and then change the speed limits to this. The national government should never again impose a federal maximum. If these two simple tasks are completed accident rates will greatly diminish, laws law enforcement will be respected, and everyone will be satisfied. So if ever told that speed kills, be sure to reply, “How do you know?” (Bedard, pg. 109)
Palmaffy, Tyce. “Don’t Brake for Big Government” Policy Review. Sept.-Oct. 1996.
Bedard, Patrick. “They Say Speed Kills” Car and Driver. Sept. 1996. Pg. 109-113.
Nikkel, Cathy. “The Illusion of Speed” Motor Trend. Aug. 1996. Pg. 36-37.
Bedard, Patrick. “Why the Speed Limit has Nothing to do with Speeds” Car and Driver.
Sept. 1996. Pg. 24.