Speeding is Not Dangerous (as dangerous as you think)

I’ve been wanting to write about the self-righteous attitude that some people have about speeding for years. I’ve never had the motivation to spend time on it before. But now we have speed cameras handing out citations, and the rallying cry to support this is that speeding is dangerous. Here are some examples of their claims:

First let’s get some perspective. If we all drove between 10 – 15 mph everywhere, we’d all be a lot safer. So why aren’t the highways set at 15 mph, and local roads at 10 mph? I think it’s because we’ve decided that being able to drive 65 mph to places regularly outweighs the chances of fatal accidents. I don’t see a big push from these self-righteous people to reduce speed limits everywhere, or to enforce speed minimums even though going 10 mph below the speed limit results in 6 times the chance of getting into an accident.

The people who claim speeding is dangerous like to point to government statistics. The statistics show high rates of fatality for what they call speed-related accidents. The statistics are misleading at best, implying causality where there may be none.

For example, if we say that nearly 100% of all traffic-related deaths are caused by driving a vehicle, it may seem true because 100% of driving accidents involve someone driving a vehicle. But it’s a bogus claim because the mere act of driving a vehicle does not directly cause the accident. To make things worse, in the case of speeding statistics really mean that “one of the drivers involved in the accident was ‘assumed’ to be exceeding the posted limit. It does not mean that speeding caused the accident.” That’s statistics.

However when we actually study the causes of accidents, we find that speeding is only a minor factor.  Don’t believe me?

With the new speed camera technology being everywhere, we are also now seeing what everyone knew before:  the majority of people drive over the posted speed limit.

That doesn’t mean that speeding has no effect on the danger of what happens to you when you drive–it just means it’s the wrong place to focus your energy. Does anyone really think that going 46 mph in a 45 results in any risk change?  Sure, going 120 mph on the highway, weaving in and out of cars isn’t safe. But that is a far cry from going even just 70 mph on the highway when everyone else is going 65 mph. (More likely everyone else is breaking the speed limit too, making driving 70 actually safer!)  Worrying about the technicality of whether or not someone went over the posted speed limit is a total waste of energy and money.

Furthermore, I believe this kind of mentality makes people worse drivers. When people are trained to focus on who is legally “right” or has the “right-of-way,” they tend to make decisions based on the letter of the law rather than the real situation at hand. It’s obvious to anyone who drives well that safe driving is about paying attention and sometimes giving up your “right-of-way” when it’s safer.

For example, in the US many people have the tendency to “claim their lane” since in the US merging traffic does not have the right-of-way. This leads to an attitude that as long as we stay in our lane, we can do whatever we want and do not have to let people merge, regardless of the circumstances. And in cases where someone merges in by force (either through aggression or necessity), a common reaction is to feel slighted which can lead to road rage. If instead, we encourage and attitude that driving is about cooperation instead of who has the “right-of-way” then we’d all be a lot safer.

Furthermore, the posted speed limit does not take into consideration other factors such as the type of vehicle being driven. Older and less maintained cars can be much more dangerous at higher speeds. Newer and well maintained cars can be driven safely at higher speeds. That means the posted speed limit reflects society’s lowest common denominator. They are based on what the worst of drivers might do, not the average. I’m not against posting speed limits this way in principle, but then to turn around and act like anyone who goes over the speed limit is acting dangerously is just disingenuous.  I think that every speeding situation should be judged subjectively by law enforcement, and especially not by a camera.

So while I’m not saying that speed has absolutely no effect on the danger in accidents, I am saying that it is an area that gets way too much attention because it generates revenue.

Danger on the road is caused by accidents, but accidents are not caused by speeding.  Accidents are avoided by individuals paying attention to their surroundings and making judgments about what is safe.

More reading:

Reading against photo camera enforcement:

(Note: I may not agree wholly with the above articles and their causes. They are provided only for further reading.)

7 thoughts on “Speeding is Not Dangerous (as dangerous as you think)

  1. Thanks for bringing up another side of this debate. While my point in “Speeding = Actually Dangerous” was to point out that speed can be a factor in accidents, I’m more interested in point out how speeding is, as you put it, “a total waste of energy and money.” Most cars are manufactured to run most efficiently at 55 mph. In a time where many families across the US are facing unemployment and underemployment and people are facing tough decisions about money, driving the speed limit is an easy and free way to keep some money for other things, like food and rent. In fact, slowing down and driving the speed limit can help the average driver save over $200 a year in gas costs – not to mention avoiding costly speeding tickets (the average speeding ticket in the US can run between $150-$200).

  2. Neely,
    Just so you know, I was using your post as an example of claims that speed is dangerous–not of someone with a self-righteous attitude. They usually come from commentators I see on other sites.

    Hopefully people will read your post and consider the cost savings for fuel. As for speeding tickets, I have to admit it’s cheaper not to get them.

    More comments on your blog….

  3. I think it’s true. Bad driving is the cause of the accidents, the speed may make more accidents fatal than would otherwise not be.

  4. If speed limits were set at 15 miles per hour, then we all may as well walk to our destinations. As it is, only 1 in 100 people are drivers who have complete focus on driving and want to keep traffic flowing at the speeds that cars were invented for. Only 3% of car accidents are casued by “excessive” speed, all others are caused by impaired drivers and poor drivers, the latter defined to include those who:

    1. Drive in the blind spots of other drivers and don’t realize they are doing it or that it is dangerous
    2. Do not create a space buffer around other drivers
    3. Are not completely aware of who is in front, behind and on both sides of your car at all distances from your car at all times
    4. Think of driving as something you do when you are doing other things, like talking on your cell phone, or to others in the car, etc.
    5. Do not anticipate the actions of other drivers at all times

  5. I think I would concede that speed becomes a factor at a certain point, when the car becomes more difficult to control. But that’s not the speed limit. And that wouldn’t be the same for everyone or for every car.

  6. Just as much as ‘Speed’ has been described as a relative factor, another relative aspect associated with it in relative terms may be the actual skill of the driver. It means that for an average driver even a speed of 45 kmph is fast whereas a more skilled driver may feel comfortable at 60 kmph. Thus it must also be considered that a driver may have exceeded a speed fairly beyond own comfort zone and capability of handling the same apart from the other factors. Some people will have this threshold high while others low.

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