December 19, 2013

Does Speeding Cause Accidents?

Two simple words: Speed kills. That’s what we are told. But is speeding really the root cause of many traffic accidents? I argue speeding is rarely the root cause of an accident, but is instead a contributing factor in many cases. I think driver distraction coupled with an unhealthy dose of both entitlement and presumption play much larger roles in most traffic accidents.

If there is one thing I try not to do, is drive while distracted. But obviously it’s near impossible to be entirely focused behind the wheel. Even thinking about what you are going to make for dinner while cruising down the freeway means you are not 100% focused on the task at hand. But then there are others who seem to go out of their way to introduce distractions. I’m talking to anyone who thinks texting and driving are perfectly acceptable activities to perform at the same time. I hate to break it to ya, but you are not special. You are not superhuman. When you are texting, your car is driving itself and you are along for the ride. It’s of little practical consequence that your foot happens to be resting on the gas pedal and maybe (just maybe) part of an arm or hand is still touching the steering wheel. If you are looking at that little screen while hurling down the highway, you are not going to react (or even see) the obstruction expanding on the horizon, at least not until its too late to react. And just because this scenario hasn’t played out in your life yet, is not a marker for your superior driving and multitasking skills.

Even speeders back speed laws, finds new survey – Yahoo Autos — According to federal safety regulators, speeding contributed to crashes that claimed the lives of 123,804 Americans during the decade leading up to the latest survey, with an annual economic impact of about $40 billion.

Skeptics routinely question the assumptions behind such claims, however, noting that with motorists on many U.S. freeways routinely exceeding speed limits it can be easy to blame excess speed in a crash that might, in fact, have been triggered by anything from distracted driving to poor vehicle maintenance or even such common violations as the failure to use a turn signal.

Critics also counter that enforcement of speed limits have become over-accentuated because it provides an easy way for police to issue tickets that, in turn, provide revenue for cash-strapped communities.

Yes, speeding might have “contributed” to crashes that killed 123,804 during the last decade, but that is not the same as saying speeding caused those accidents. There is no doubt the faster a car is going, the less time there is to react in a given situation. But what causes the situation in the first place? Speeding didn’t cause someone to run a red light, or fail to signal, or cut another motorist off, but distraction could have. Speed could be a contributing factor in the eventual accident, and it obviously could produce a more violent incident for both car human.

And yes, there are a small minority of crashes where speed likely was the root cause, like the recent accident that took the life of actor Paul Walker.

I’m not a speeding advocate, but let’s recognize one thing that will never change. Most people drive the speed they are comfortable with regardless of the speed limit. You can crack down on speeding, issue higher fines, put more cops on the highway to nab more people, but it’s not going to change anything. So that means efforts to reduce speeding, particularly by local municipalities, have more to do with fund raising than public safety.

Highway at night

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