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Study cites lack of progress in reducing speeding deaths

Consumer Reports News: March 08, 2012 04:53 PM

Speeding-related traffic fatalities have not been reduced in almost three decades, according to a new study by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

In 2010, over 10,000 people died in speeding-related accidents and it continues to be a factor in about one third of traffic deaths each year, despite large improvements in seatbelt use and fewer alcohol-impaired fatalities. From 1985 to 2010, the proportion of drivers not wearing seatbelts in fatal crashes decreased 57 percent, and alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal crashes decreased 24 percent.

The GHSA report surveyed all 50 states and found that little has been done to improve state laws on speeding since 2005. In fact, the study shows that some are regressing; Seven states have increased speed limits during that time with some reaching up to 85 mph. Just two states have higher fines for speeders and three states have an excessive speed classification. Eleven states have an aggressive driver law, but only one state has added that law since 2005.

Studies have long shown that higher traffic deaths are attributed to higher speed limits. The most recent was a 2009 study in American Journal of Public Health that looked at the long-term effects of the 1995 repeal of the national speed limit. Researchers found that road fatalities attributed to speeding increased by 3 percent overall and 9 percent on rural interstates. The study estimated that over 12,000 deaths were attributed to an increase in speed limits in the US in the 10 years following the repeal.

Responses to the survey cite “public indifference to speeding,” “public perception that speed enforcement is a revenue generator,” and “lack of funding for enforcement” as obstacles for reducing speeding deaths. Thirty-five states reported overall decreases in enforcement personnel, which makes it a challenge to enforce speeding and aggressive driving.

The GHSA report has recommendations for the states and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on how they should address the speeding problem.

States should:

  • Look into speed concerns through aggressive driving enforcement, since the public believes it’s a more serious threat to safety.
  • Target speed enforcement in school and work zones, as this has higher public support and viewed as less controversial.

NHTSA should:
  • Sponsor a national high-visibility enforcement campaign and support public awareness efforts to address speeding and aggressive driving.
  • Promote best practices in automated enforcement strategies. Only 14 states allow automated speed enforcement and only two allow it everywhere in the state.
  • Sponsor a National Forum on Speeding and Aggressive Driving to bring experts together to develop a plan and share information.

Beyond safety concerns, speed is a real factor in fuel consumption. Our tests have show that with a family sedan, an increase of 10 mph at highway speeds can drop fuel economy by 5 mpg. One reason is that aerodynamic drag increases exponentially the faster you drive; it simply takes more fuel to power the car through the air.

Slow down, obey the speed limit. You will help save lives and money at the pump.

To find out how your state is addressing speeding issues and enforcement, see the full GHSA report.

Liza Barth

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