Thursday, October 10, 2013

Speeding Toward Oblivion

     Two weekends ago we had dinner with friends, along with a third couple. The man is a lawyer and a father of three boys. He's a nice guy; active in his church; involved in a foundation to raise money to help local kids go to college. He spent a good portion of the evening regaling us with a story of how he got a speeding ticket and is trying to fight it in court, because it's his third ticket and he's worried that he'll lose his license.

     The way he told the story was pretty funny, but my laughter was a little forced. How could this guy -- a lawyer, an officer of the court who should set a good example for the rest of us, not to mention his three boys -- flout the law so brazenly and so publicly?

     I asked him what his hurry always was that he kept getting speeding tickets. He shrugged. He has a 25 minute commute to work every day. If he gets caught in traffic or hits the lights wrong, and it takes him 28 minutes, he says it ruins his entire morning, whereas if he makes the trip in 23 minutes he feels great all day.

     The other friend pointed out that he was spending hours and hours dealing with tickets, which squandered much more time than he saved by speeding to work -- not to mention putting himself and others in danger.

     But he just didn't get it. It's all a game to him. And to tell the truth, I've met many other commuters who share the same point of view.

     We need to remember that, even though traffic fatalities are way down from their peak in the 1970s (due not to better driving, but to seatbelts and airbags), there are still over 30,000 Americans killed in traffic accidents every year. That's more than ten times the number of Americans killed in over ten years of fighting in Afghanistan.

     The research says that speeding is a factor in over one third of fatal accidents. And the faster you go, the more likely you are to die. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Forces on impact double with every 10 mph increase in speed above 50 mph, and as crash forces increase, so does one's chances of being killed or seriously injured."

     Meanwhile, the other day I was driving along a road near our house, one that goes up to a main east-west artery three or four miles north of us. It's a straight road, but narrow with no shoulder and so the posted speed limit is 30 mph. The road is so straight, it seems like you should be able to go faster. But it's dangerous, because the road is elevated above the fields to both the right and left, as much as eight or ten feet. So, literally, if you go a foot off the road, you will plummet down an embankment eight or ten feet into a tree or a rock, and likely roll over in the process.

     I was driving north, going between 35 and 40 mph. Like I said, 30 mph just seems so slow. Then I looked in my rear-view mirror and I saw an SUV come up behind me. It kept coming and closed the gap and started riding my tail.

     I glimpsed down at my speedometer to make sure I wasn't going to slow. It read between 35 and 40. I went past a sign that posted the 30 mph limit. I thought the car behind me might get off my tail when the driver saw the sign.

     It didn't work. The car kept tailgating me. Now I'll admit that most aggressive drivers -- those who speed, tailgate, weave in and out of lanes -- are male. But this driver was a woman.

     She followed me for a minute or two, which seems like a long time when you're trundling along a narrow road, casting your eyes into the rear-view mirror every few seconds. Then she backed off. I thought maybe she saw another of the speed-limit signs that are posted along the road and just decided to slow down.

     But I was wrong. She'd backed off to give herself room to pass me, because even though the road has a double yellow line, meaning no passing allowed, she gunned her car and zoomed past, up toward the main road ahead of us.

     I continued along, going just under 40, and a minute later arrived at the light. The woman was sitting there, waiting behind one other car at the red light. I pulled up behind her and stopped, and when the light turned green, she turned right, and I turned left, never to see her again.

     Maybe this woman was from out of town, and just didn't know the road and how dangerous it is. Or maybe she thinks the state should do something to improve the road, and she's simply not going to let the state's neglect slow her down. But you can't blame the state too much. It's a difficult stretch, and not a major thoroughfare.

     But what I know, and what she should know, is that since I moved up here in 2007, three people have died on that length of road. In each case they wandered off the pavement by a few inches; their wheels caught in the grass, and they rolled over into a tree.

     And as one expert said about speeding in general: "In most cases these accidents could have been avoided or made less severe if the vehicles had obeyed the speed limit."



rosaria williams said...

Some people think they know better than the highway department. To them, we say, may God be with you.

Douglas said...

Yes, the lower traffic fatalities are definitely not due to safer driving.

I run into (not literally, mind you) the opposite problem. Drivers here tend to refuse to do the speed limit. A friend laments the high posted speed limit through much of Sebring along U.S. 27 (55 MPH), thinks it should be 45MPH (45 was what he suggested). I countered that would still be 10MPH above the effective speed limit on the road during the "snowbird" season. We agreed to disagree and avoid each other on the road. But I would not have tailgated you regardless. You were already speeding. Good post, Tom!

Linda Myers said...

Excellent description of the road and the risks.

DJan said...

I often have people tailgate me when I am at (or just above) the speed limit. I wonder what their hurry is, Tom. Good post

Stephen Hayes said...

I tend to be a pokey driver and my problem is keeping up with the speed of traffic.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand speeding. I can only think of the Burma Shave ditty: '

He was right dead right as he sped along, but he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong.'

Fools speed and then laugh about it. Dianne

Barb said...

I am an unapologetic speeder when it comes to wide open spaces and "over the road" roads be they interesteds or US highways. I'm used to going on the authobahn (where the accident rate and death rate is lower but no speed limit-mainly cause people don't do stupid things like sit in the left lane".

That said, lots of people think theyre great drivers and they are not, and most accidents happen within twenty miles of home. I always travel close to the limit on country roads and in residential areas.

That said, nothing, nothing is more irritating than the person who feels that he or she are going the speed limit so don't need to move over to let folks pass, wait to turn on their turn signals until they are turning, fail to come to a complete stop before turning right. Most local accidents are to to the failure to yield or the need to step on the gas when seeing a yellow light.

Sorry Im an opinionated driver. Who hasnt had at speeding ticket or an accident since she was 18.

Anonymous said...

Is there not something suspect about an admitted speeder's decrying another speeder's fighting a speeding ticket? *sigh*

"Forces on impact double with every 10 mph increase in speed above 50 mph...." Not really. The force is proportional to the square of the velocity. What I think the quote was meant to say was that "According to the National Safety Council, your chance of dying in a crash doubles for every 10 mph that you travel above 50 mph." Reference, National Safety Council Fact Sheets: Speeding, April 5, 2005
Cop Car

Anonymous said...

more car accidents these days are due to using celluar phone while driving.

Retired Syd said...

There is nothing that scares me more than driving in the situation that you described. If there's a way to pull over safely, like on a multiple lane highway, I ALWAYS move over for these rude tailgaters.

But if you are a tailgater, understand that if there's no place to move over, you should get the hell off my tail! You are just putting us both at risk! What's so hard to understand about that?!? Of course, 90% of the time it's an SUV, the other 10% it's a BMW or Mercedes.

And if there's a faster lane to our left, why don't you just pass me? Why do you have to sit on my tail for 5 minutes first. I just don't understand?????

Debbie Gruber said...

You are oh so right - and the advent of cell phones makes things worse. Speeding and using a cell phone can be a deadly combination.

Doris Carver said...

Nicely written! Every injury and death caused by driving over the speed limit is totally preventable. But I do have to agree with a previous comment that using your cell phone is equally dangerous, if not more so. Statistics show less accidents due to overspeeding in recent years.

Doris Carver @