I promise to get back to Games for the Weekend soon, but it’s time to deal with another subject I started this blog for. One of the reasons I decided to write this blog was the desire to delve into subject more than paragraph quick comments on newspaper websites. One of the subjects I wanted to deal with that of driving. Being a former truck driver, driving issues are a subject I still keep a keen eye on. One of the issues that recently came up was New Hanover Township and its decision to lower, nearly, all speed limits on their roads by five miles per hour (mph.) My first reaction was a roll of my eyes, then concern for the apparent lack of concern for safety over other concerns.
I guarantee this is going to be one of the articles that evenly divides people. I will not even pretend to believe I can change minds. If you think, lower speed limits are a key to safety then no study or fact based argument will change that. I have read too many opinions and comments to bear this truth out to be proven true. Nevertheless, this does not mean I am not going to put my opinion out there with the rest.
I am going to take this back to where I came from, that is I was of the camp that the person who followed the law and stayed around or under speed limits the safer you were. My mindset, as those in the lower speed camp are, was that the more you paid attention the safer you were. In addition, just as many others, my opinion changed over time. For me it changed once I became a truck driver. The biggest wake-up call for me was the realization that through training to become a professional driver, I was really being given a course in safe driving. Yes, I was being trained to drive the truck, skills like shifting and backing a trailer, but the biggest part of my training was how to be a safe driver (more on this later.)
What I took away from my time learning how to drive professionally and doing it was the safest way to drive was to pay attention to everything, constantly assessing your environment and following the signs that are on the road. For example, if a speed limit sign says 35 MPH and you decide to deviate from that path you are changing other driver’s expectations of what you are doing. Whether people agree with a sign or not, they still see and comprehend an expectation that other drivers will follow that sign’s advice. Now it is not as simple as this, but as you might be able to see how speeding from slow driving creates two different conditions for drivers.
Laws and those who make them
One of the things I heard constantly while driving, from radio programs to other drivers, was how lower speed limits actually was causing fatalities. It was something I didn’t necessarily believe at first. I am not one to believe in conspiracies without facts, and what I was hearing seemed to be more conspiracy then fact based. The notion was study after study done was showing a correlation between decreased accidents and less emphasize on speed limit control. Simply put lower speed limits did not save lives, it actually put more lives in danger. I asked my normal questions and then sought out answers.
One of the first things I wanted to find out was if these studies existed, studies that questioned the nature of safety versus lowering of speed limits. Moreover, I got my answer rather quickly from a simple Internet search.
The data clearly show that lowering posted speed limits did not reduce vehicle speeds or accidents. Also, lowering speed limits well below the 86th percentile speed did not increase speeds and accidents. Conversely, raising the posted speed limits did not increase speeds and accidents. The majority of motorist did not drive 5 to 10 mi/h (8 to 16 km/h) above the posted speed limit when speed limits were raised, nor did they reduce their speed by 5 or 10 mi/h (8 to 16 km/h) when speed limits were lowered.
Because there were few changes in the speed distribution, it is not surprising that the overall effects of speed limit changes on accidents were minor. It is interesting to note that compliance decreased when speed limits were lowered and accidents tended to increase. Conversely, when compliance improved after speed limits are raised, accidents tended to decrease.
I also wanted to know then if these studies were true and ignored, why were they ignored. Again a simple search of the Internet produced results.
Today, the overwhelming bulk of NHTSA’s funding is spent on programs that do not increase highway safety. Instead, the agency has become a classic Washington bureaucratic horror story, actively working to the detriment of the public in order to serve only itself and its special-interest constituency.
It’s easy to just say it’s a revenue issue but I rather deal with why lowering speeds will never work. This comes from many thousands of miles of driving and observations I have made over my years.
Speed limit signs are a guideline. If there is a whiteout on the road for example I may have to lower my speed to meet conditions. If I am passing a driver, I may have to speed up. If the flow of traffic is going faster or slower, trying to control that flow is not by speeding or slowing is not an answer.
Now here is where the problem comes in, when people go too fast or too slow they are changing the normal from what is expected. A speeding driver going too fast is ignoring what the road is telling him and may/may not know what dangers lay ahead. Even when they do know a road, dynamic factors (other drivers, animals, etc.) will cause changes to the environment that a drive usually isn’t prepared for. This is why the racing of vehicles is done on a closed controlled course. Even drag racing is done on controlled courses (to an extent.)
The same is true of people who drive slower, and this is the bigger fallacy. When a person drives under the speed limit, they too are changing the environment and expectations of other drivers. Where it becomes a fallacy is while the speeder knows they are being unsafe, the slower driver thinks they are being safe. The natural question people would ask is why is going slow unsafe then.
The answer is mufti-faceted; first, drivers going slower tend to over think the driving process and put focus on one part of their driving, speed. Think of why drunk drivers normally survive crashes, when they crash their brain is not thinking of what it is doing and is not concentrating on bracing for impact. Therefore, when impact does occur, the body naturally reacts apart from thought, saving the driver in most cases. Now this goes into training (more on that later) but like any skill you need to practice before you actually do. Once you practice something, enough you then do not put much thought into the process, even though your mind is thinking about the process. In any given job, schooling we all have encountered a point in time where over-thinking hurt us. Think of the advice teachers gave you in school, the first answer is usually the right one. When we second-guess ourselves, we put in jeopardy that which we know. The same goes for driving; when a drive puts emphasis on one piece of the puzzle, they cannot see the whole picture.
Second, driving is also control of your vehicle and person, and not control of environment. People who speed and go slower then conditions are trying to control those around them instead of themselves. It always amazes me the person who thinks they are being courteous by leaving another car out by stopping a line of cars behind them. As if, it is courteous to choose to be nice to one over others. By being “courteous” the person is trying to control everyone else and deem what is right for them to do, when the law calls for them to actually not stop traffic, but go.
Finally, it is again the mindset. Drivers who travel slower put themselves into a false safety mindset. I have been behind many slow drivers who think driving five mph below the speed limit is safe. These same drivers tend to forget turn signals and have no problem cutting other drivers off. Again, the mind is lulled into a false sense of security. As society has deemed speed to mean death, going slow has been equated to being safer, thus the person going slower can relax because they are being “safer.”
I can’t drive 35…
One of the other points that has to be made is that of the purpose of laws. As a friend pointed to me eons ago, a lock only keeps lawful people out, that is those with respect for laws will obey them. The same is true for laws that do not make sense to people. If the Government were to be pass a law that stated wearing green was illegal, do you think people would follow it? The same is true for road laws. Many studies find the same thing, speed limits should be set to the limits of the road and what people tend to drive on those roads. This is why the 85th percentile is used, at least recommended, for speed limits. Because it takes into consideration how drivers drive and what the limits of the road are. When you deviate from this you cause problems. Think of a 100 mile stretch of flat highway and a speed limit of 25 MPH, I would bet you no one would follow the speed limit sign.
It is why split speed limits are dangerous. Luckily, to my knowledge, Pennsylvania does not have split-speed limit roads. Split speed limits are speed limits that require trucks to drive slower (usually ten MPH slower) then cars. Instead of creating a safer road, they actually have increased accidents, as cars and trucks were put at war trying to obey the speed limits. This is why when people who speed or drive slower create havoc on the roadways also, as they are creating artificial split speed limit zones. The same thing that I saw in Ohio happens in these cases; drivers will get impatient and try to go around slower moving vehicles. In addition, those moving around slower vehicles do not always do their passing in a safe manner.
The solutions to these problems are too costly. I am in favor of toughening the standards for the Class C license to that of a Class A license. That is raising the standard to become a licensed driver to those of truck drivers, and that means raising the standard for Class A licenses for truck drivers. This means training and practicing through certified instructors. In addition, this would mean a mandatory time behind the wheel minimum before a driver could even take the test. This would also mean also setting standards for when a driver needs to be retested would be tied to age, accidents and other factors. As those who have CDLs know alcohol is pretty much eliminated from the picture when it comes to driving, this is also a standard I support for Class C drivers.
The problem with doing these changes would be that of complaint of cost. It would also be a complaint of time. Lastly, it would be a complaint of the loss of jobs, as with a better-trained driving society police would not be as needed on the roadways. Moreover, with better-trained drivers, revenue from tickets would be decreased.
My question has always been is if we want to really make the roadways a safer place and stop fatalities on the highway, why are these factors even a question when it comes to life we say we hold so dearly?
Back to New Hanover Township and their lowering of speed limits for safety reasons. I found it ironic a few weeks into the change, a couple of accidents had occurred. I’ll leave the conclusions to your own mind.