Highway Deaths Lowest since 1949. Good. Can We Go Faster Now?
The topic of speed limits comes up in our merry band of arsonists (thanks to Dan Neil for that name) oh; every single time we drive a car. We usually give extra thought and a more “passionate” discussion after receiving speeding tickets. Most of the cars we drive-especially that we make episodes of-are either high-performance cars or expensive cars. Not exactly cars that drive poorly. Yes, they’re fast but they also have good brakes, traction system, air bags, warning lights (which we hate) and good tires. Germany has the Autobahn, proving travel at extremely high speed is safe. We know that won’t happen here, but what about a bump in limits?
Let’s be honest, everyone who drives a car knows in a good car it’s safe to travel above the posted speed limit. Everyone -on highways at least- speeds at least a little bit. I remember learning to drive and asking my dad how fast to go on the highway. He said “65″, to which I replied, “Oh please you never drive that speed. What’s the real number?” I wasn’t asking if it’s ok to max out our Laredo but I paid enough attention when my parents drove to know we weren’t the only families doing 5 over. More
A lot of people probably think this a silly, dangerous whine that justifies illegal behavior, but now we have evidence. Mwahahaha.
I have two people to thank for this scientific evidence. The first is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The NHTSA recently reported that even though Americans drove more in 2010 than ever, traffic fatalities dropped (2.9%) for the 5th year in a row. They haven’t been this low since 1949. And guess what? The Interstate Highway System hadn’t been built yet. Hell it had barely been thought of. Danger comes with speed; speed with highways, so comparing deaths now to a pre-freeway time is silly. NHTSA, you get a fruit basket.
And the IIHS gave presented my argument with visual aids: a 2009 video showing a head-on crash between a 1959 Chevy Bel Air and a 2009 Chevy Malibu. They wanted to show people that big, heavy cars are not as safe as we think. People always refer to giant old cars as tanks, but in the video it’s clear you’d rather be in the new Malibu (It’s safer, not cooler). It was done to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the IIHS, but guess what, I’m stealing their gift. If the cars are safer and accident-related death rates are dropping… Right? See where I’m headed?
So why can’t we go a little faster? It doesn’t matter if you’re into cars or not and if you have a fairly modern car it doesn’t even matter what it is. A German Ford Fiesta -which can safely go 100MPH- is basically the same as a Fiesta here. In fact, our DOT is even more anal than the Germans and makes companies add all kinds of ugly blinkers and rubber bumpers and crap. And I’m not saying we need an autobahn. But I would like to see some of the well-maintained highways have their limits raised to more realistic numbers. You’re going to tell me a new car with AWD isn’t safe on a new U.S. road but in Germany it is? And don’t give me the road engineering spiel. For unlimited speeds that matters, but fresh black tarmac is totally safe at 90MPH.
Yeah, you’ll always have your states like South Carolina, known for their strict enforcement. We spent a week there and I’ve never looked at the speedometer so much in my entire life. The normal response to realizing you’re driving 2MPH over the limit is, “Oh. Who cares.” Not there.
But outside these, ahem, slower areas people tend to hover a little over. I think the mentality is that if 65MPH is what the government deems a safe rate of travel, hovering a little above that can’t be dangerous. They wouldn’t set the limit at 65, knowing that cars spontaneously shed all their bolts like a tree’s leaves in a hurricane should the driver go 67. (You’re welcome, Cars 3 for that idea, probably followed by some joke about old cars and losing hair.)
Of course, the fact is not everyone has a new, modern, safe car. Germany has its rigorous TÜV tests, which we don’t have. You can’t raise the limit on the 101 to 75 or 80 because some guy in a 1978 Blazer with a camper shell will kill someone. But what about a higher limit for cars made after a certain year? People might say it’s classist, and they’re stupid, but if you’re travelling in a 2010 Camry with 12 airbags why should you to comply to speed limits decided on cars from 40 years ago or an oil crisis in 1974? Brakes are good now. Cars are basically sticky sleds filled with computers and air mattresses. Getting hit is probably like diving in a pit of Tempurpedic mattresses. The video proves it.
I know it won’t happen yet. Maybe when every car on the road was from 2000 or newer. Maybe. I just hope it happens within my lifetime, because cars will only get better from here. If I’m still have to drive 65 in my 2038 Audi A4 or Corvette, I’ll be fucking pissed. And since fewer people are dying, we can gamble a bit, right?
- Zack K