I just drove home from South Carolina, via Raleigh, NC, which is about a 750-mile haul. The northern part of the trip routes along I95 through Richmond, Washington and Baltimore. Thankfully, I survived the journey . . . sometimes I wondered if I would.
Last year 37,133 people lost their lives on the roads of America. This is actually down a little bit from the 37,806 fatalities in 2016, but otherwise it's higher than anytime in the last ten years.
We are all appropriately horrified when we hear about the 79 people (at last count) who lost their lives last week in California's Camp Fire. But in that same week over 700 Americans were killed in car accidents.
Despite whatever horrors we hear about in the news -- Iraq, Afghanistan, hurricanes, fires, gang violence, mass shootings -- many more people die on our roads, day in day out, week after week, year after year. The fact is, the most immediate and deadly danger you face is right there in front of you -- the much more familiar threat of a deadly car accident.
So perhaps our political outrage should not be directed at the Russians, the Chinese or the terrorists, or the Democrats, Republicans or the "crooks" in Washington. It should be directed at the high degree of lawlessness on American roads. People routinely drive 10, 15, even 20 miles over the speed limit. And as I so recently witnessed, a significant portion of drivers tailgate, pass on the right, weave in and out of traffic, change lanes without signaling. And god only knows how many are doing all this while they're munching on some cookies or fiddling with their iPhone.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the top three reasons for car accidents are: inattentiveness, speeding, and tailgating.
Inattentiveness can be caused by texting or eating while driving. But the main cause of inattentiveness is fatigue. Nearly half of drivers admitted to driving while drowsy, and two out of every ten drivers admitted they had fallen asleep while driving! Inattentiveness also comes from drivers being emotionally disturbed, sometimes exacerbated by perfectly legal substances like nicotine, caffeine or prescription medications.
Also, when you change drivers, do you check the mirrors? And do you regularly clean your windshield -- both outside and inside? A dirty windshield or misaligned mirror can cause driver distraction.
As far as tailgating goes, you're supposed to adhere to the two-second rule when following another vehicle, meaning you travel far enough behind the car in front so it takes two seconds to catch up. So obviously, the faster you go, the more space you need to leave. You should increase your following space to three seconds if it's foggy, raining or snowing, or if you're following a tractor trailer.
You shouldn't drive side by side to another vehicle, either, for pretty much the same reason -- no room for error. If cars are side by side and a driver decides to change lanes, there is no room to maneuver and no time to do it. So word of caution: When merging or changing lanes, always use your turn signal, and don't rely on your mirrors alone -- look quickly to the side to make sure your blind spot is clear. And by the way, as a defensive measure, do not drive in someone else's blind spot.
As far as speeding goes, if you're interested in saving gas -- and the planet -- remember that the typical car gets the best gas mileage at 45 to 55 mph. Once you hit 60 mph and beyond, gas mileage deteriorates. So at 70 mph, for example, you're getting 15 - 20% fewer miles per gallon than you are at 50 or 55 mph.
The crucial safety issue with speeding is that it cuts your reaction time if something goes wrong. At 55 mph, by the time you recognize a problem, react and brake, it will take about six seconds and 100 yards to stop. At 70 mph, it will take the same six seconds, but at that faster speed you've gone 150 yards -- or 50 more yards to run into something or someone.
There's another reason why speeding is so deadly. What causes injury and death is the force of impact against the human body, which is in direct proportion to the weight of a vehicle (which is why all other things being equal (which they rarely are) a heavier car is safer than a lighter vehicle). But the force of impact has a squared relationship with speed, which is why, no matter how equal or unequal everything else is, you're a lot more likely to suffer severe injury or death at 70 mph than you are at 55 or 60 mph.
Why otherwise law-abiding people ignore traffic laws is beyond me -- except maybe, most of the time, they get away with it. People rarely get a ticket, and when they do the policeman usually drops it down to a lesser offense. There's no downside to breaking the traffic law . . . until there is.
But no matter how much of a hurry you're in, keep this is mind. According to traffic experts, on a 10-mile trip with a speed limit of 45 mph, going 60 should theoretically save you about 3 minutes. However, if there are lights, which are often timed to match speed limits, the speeding driver ends up getting caught in more red lights, and perhaps more traffic as well.
The speeder ends up saving less than 1 minute on the trip, even though they're going 15 mph over the limit. Is this really worth the gamble -- one minute against your life?