What “25” really means

Boston drivers will have to slow down a little,” wrote the Patch reporter.

No, we won’t. That’s one of the stock phrases reporters use that gets on my nerves, because it reflects a basic misunderstanding of how speed limits work.

Ben Parker from WBZ got the lead right — “drivers will be told to slow down” — but still confused speeds and limits.

Parker interviewed a Civil Engineering professor who talked as if City Councilors were waving magic wands to control traffic instead of ordering “SPEED LIMIT 25” signs posted. It is well known in the traffic engineering profession that traffic speed is not controlled by signs, but rather by drivers’ perception of the road and roadside environment. (The professor is described by his school as a technology and infrastructure expert, not a traffic engineer.)

Traffic is not going to change speed because Aldermen jumped on a bandwagon. Traffic is not going to change speed because City Councilors ordered 1,000 signs. Traffic is not going to change speed in the long term based on a short term show of force by police.

And if traffic did change speed, that wouldn’t affect the majority of the accidents politicians say they are trying to prevent.

Crash data is out there. You don’t have to guess why people get hurt.

Most injuries do not result from sober drivers going the speed limit on city streets. Fatal accidents tend to be on state highways. On city streets, about half the injuries are turning accidents, like the pedestrian who got run over by a bus last week. Bicyclists swerve out of their lane and sideswipe cars. Bicyclists stay in their lane and get “doored”. Pedestrians run into traffic and get flattened. Pedestrians stay on the sidewalk and get run over by drunk drivers. Drivers look left and hit the car on the right. And so on. There are lots of causes, and going 30 instead of 25 is way down on the list, if you could even find it in the data.

Despite acknowledging unsafe behavior by non-motorized traffic, the report nevertheless supports punishing motorized traffic.

Cities prefer making everybody a lawbreaker to targeting dangerous behavior.

Here’s an honest lead: “Boston police will have an easier time writing speeding tickets.”

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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