Got a lead foot? Make them raise the speed limit!!

I ran into another interesting speeding related article. A New Hampshire man has apparently decided that the best way to beat his speeding tickets is to have the state raise all the speed limits:

Rather than slow down, Lemay is suing the state Department of Transportation to study traffic and speed limits across New Hampshire, to see whether limits could be raised. Lemay’s lawsuit, filed in Strafford County Superior Court, also asks a judge to order the Transportation Department to pay for his legal fees and the cost of the study, an estimated $1,853. – [Yahoo/AP]

Well one thing you can’t say about this guy is he hasn’t got cohones of adamantium. His argument is that many states tend to implement lower speed limits than necessary in order to pad their revenue from speeding tickets. The article also stated that he also believes that higher speed limits would lead to safer driving.

Dave Hilts, the states assistant attorney general made this general rebuttal:

“Common sense will tell you that going too slow is only a hazard when other people are going much faster,” said Hilts. – [Yahoo/AP]

Hilts is mostly correct, though it does not necessarily follow that a person driving slowly on a highway is incapable of getting into an accident. However I do think that Lemays assertion about safer driving automatically resulting from higher limits is somewhat flawed. Ironically many legislators use the same flawed logic to promote lower speed limits, which is equally wrong. The biggest problem, as Hilts statement subtly suggests, lies in differences in speed, not overall faster or slower speed. It is sudden changes in speed that are dangerous. It is true that accidents that occur at higher speed are more devastating, and harder to avoid, but these are generally the result of driver error, equipment or environmental factors out of the control of the driver, and not necessarily a direct result of speeding.

Lemay, however, does make a lot of other good points. The most salient of which is that many speed limits in the US are generally too low. And I would tend to agree. As I understand it, the speed limit on any given road is determined via a “survey”. In other words, a survey is done to see how fast everyday drivers travel over a given stretch of road, and then the 85th percentile rule is applied. I.E. the limit is set to the speed at which at least 85% of those surveyed on that road drive.

This should in theory, provide a publicly safe, acceptable and enforceable speed limit, as it is generally accepted that the majority of drivers are smart enough to take into account road condition and environmental factors and will not drive beyond what they consider safe for those conditions. However in practice there is a pretty major flaw in the logic of this survey. If you follow this methodology, your results will have an inherent bias because of one, rather compelling, environmental factor. The existing speed limit.

Because all of these surveys are done on public roads where the drivers are required to obey the existing speed limit, many will not be traveling at the maximum speed that they feel safe driving for fear of being ticketed. As a result your 85th percentile speed will be artificially lowered by the existing limit, when it should actually be much higher.

The truth is that there are many, many people who drive significantly above the speed limit, and have even encountered and overcome adverse conditions and environmental factors like black ice and hydroplaning, at high speed, and have never been in or caused an accident. I also know people who have crashed into their garage doors doing 5mph. My honest opinion? Speeding is not the biggest issue. Training and experience is. Speed limits will never solve the problems as effectively as a comprehensive and rigorous driver training program, and thorough testing.

Frequent N.H. speeder wants limit raised – [Yahoo/AP]


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