Q: Don’t you agree that speeding causes accidents?

A: No. If it were true, cars would spontaneously collide as soon as they exceeded a speed limit.


Q: You know what I mean! According to the NHTSA, speeding was a contributing factor in a full third of all accidents!

A: In most of these accidents, if the very same vehicle was driven under exactly same conditions at an identical speed but the driver was different, there wouldn’t necessarily be an accident. Or if the same driver drove the same vehicle at identical speed, but under different conditions, in most cases he would not have had an accident. And the same is true if that driver drove a different vehicle under identical conditions, at the same speeds. So why are we so obsessed with speeds only, and ignoring all other ‘contributing factors?’


Q: Isn’t it true the faster you go the more likely it is you’ll get into an accident?

A: No. Chances of getting onto an accident – at any speed – depend on the following variables:

  • Driver’s condition (alert/asleep/on the phone, tired/rested, experienced/new)
  • Vehicle’s condition (brakes, steering, wipers/lights, etc.)
  • Actions of the others (this also includes traffic density)
  • Road condition (dry/wet, gravel/blacktop, potholes, sight lines)
  • Lighting conditions (day/night, glare, general visibility…)
  • Weather (includes high winds, drizzle/rain/sleet/hail, fog)

(Conversely, what prevents accidents is “situation awareness,” which involves much more than just a blind obedience of every speed limit sign.)

Q: What do you mean by “situation awareness?”

A: Hang up the phone and pay attention to your driving:

Look ahead as far as you can see. That way you’ll be able to anticipate traffic changes.
Look back a couple of times every minute. You must know at all times precisely where every car around you is.
Pay attention to your driving: Use you blinkers, look back before changing lanes, and keep to the right no matter what the speed limit is.

You’ll not only avoid many tickets, but more importantly you’ll become a safer driver.


Q: But what if suddenly there was a moose on the road? Wouldn’t you be better off at 30 mph instead of 60?

A: The problem is the obstruction in your way, and not your speed. You’d be better off:
– if only at that moment you weren’t on the phone (applying mascara, feeding the baby, changing the CD, groping your girlfriend, playing an air guitar etc., etc.).
– if only you got those brakes fixed yesterday, if only the road was dry, if only you had replaced those windshield wipers earlier, if only the tires had less miles on them etc., etc.).
– If only you were watching the road instead of the speedometer, you would’ve spotted the moose sooner.
– If only you were going 60 mph, you would’ve been past the point where a slower car and that moose collided.

In other words, whether or not you can avoid that obstacle does NOT depend on your speed; it depends on dozens of other variables, most importantly when you spot the danger and how you react to it. Speed by itself won’t make you hit that moose – DISTRACTIONS, POOR OBSERVATION, LACK OF MECHANICAL MAINTENANCE, FAULTY JUDGMENT AND LOW DRIVING SKILLS will.

Now let’s correlate this situation with ticketing practices:

1. Who is more likely to hit that moose?
A: driver traveling under the speed limit and holding the steering wheel with one hand.
B: driver traveling over the speed limit and holding the steering wheel with both hands.

Correct Answer: It depends…

2. Who is more likely to get a ticket?
A: driver traveling under the speed limit and holding the steering wheel with one hand.
B: driver traveling over the speed limit and holding the steering wheel with both hands.

Correct Answer: Definitely B.


Q: OK, but isn’t it true if you slowed down you’d have more time to adjust to changes in conditions?

A: That is true, BUT look at when you’re most likely to get a ticket: When you’re feeling fine, you have a new car, it’s a clear Sunday morning and you’re on an Interstate with nobody around you. In other words, NOT when the conditions dangerous, but when the conditions are ideal.
Both the speed limits (usually set by politicians) and the enforcement of these speed limits are removed from safety.


Q: Shouldn’t the police then ticket for speeds too high for conditions?

A: Yes, they should, and in Montana they did till May 1999. (In 1997, a judge ruled that under the circumstances, one man’s 101 mph was not an unreasonable speed.) And in 2005, another judge in Nebraska ruled speeding is not necessarily reckless, even at 128 mph:

Nebraska Judge Says 128 mph Not ‘Reckless’

Wed Dec 7, 4:35 PM ET

Speeding is not necessarily reckless, even at 128 mph, a judge ruled in the case of a motorcyclist who tried to flee from state troopers.

With some reluctance, County Judge John Steinheider ruled last week that Jacob H. Carman, 20, was not guilty of reckless driving on Sept. 5, when he was spotted by a trooper who then chased him at the top speed of his cruiser’s odometer — 128 mph.

“As much as it pains me to do it, speed and speed alone is not sufficient to establish reckless driving,” the judge told Carman on Friday. “If you had had a passenger, there would be no question of conviction. If there had been other cars on the roadway, if you would’ve went into the wrong lane or anything, I would have convicted you.”

Otoe County prosecutor David Partsch acknowledged that Carman could have been charged with speeding but, “We felt that the manner in which he was operating the motorcycle was reckless.”

Carman didn’t get off entirely. He was fined $300 for expired tags and other violations.

 Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. 


From the early 1990’s when the national speed limit was 55, through the late 1990’s with no posted limits to the past couple of years with 75 and 80 mph speed limits, the fatality rate in Montana hardly changed at all!

And not only that: UDOT measured the 85th percentile speed along stretches of I-15, both before and after the limit was increased to 80 mph in 2009. At the previously posted 75 mph limit, UDOT’s traffic study showed that a majority of drivers traveled at 81 to 85 mph. When the speed limit was increased by 5 mph to 80, guess what: The traffic stream stayed mostly between 83 to 85 mph. So much for the claims drivers will automatically increase their speed by at least the same increment as the raised limit.

But anyway, they should also ticket people for:

  • blocking the passing lane
  • not signaling lane changes, even when not speeding
  • cutting other people off when turning left.

A recent study in, I think, Ontario, Canada, showed that 98.5% of the revenue raised from traffic fines came from speeding tickets. Not one person or agency I’ve every seen claims that speeding is a cause in anywhere close to 98.5% of all accidents. For instance, in Florida those exceeding speed limits accounted for 2% of all the accident, but speeding tickets accounted for over 60% of all moving violations.
Why is speeding relative to other offenses so grossly over-represented? Because electronic gadgetry used to enforce unrealistic speed limits provide an easy source of revenue.

But if you need official proof, get a load of this: researchers working for the government (D. Solomon, “Accidents on Main Rural Highways Related to Speed, Driver, and Vehicle,” Federal Highway Administration, Washington, DC, July 1964, Reprinted 1974 & J. A. Cirillo, “Interstate System Accident Research Study II, Interim Report II,” Public Roads, Vol. 35, No. 3, August 1968) found that drivers traveling between 5 and 15 mph above the AVERAGE speeds (not speed LIMITS) have the least amount of ‘crash involvement.’ And research done by Martin R. Parker & Associates in 1996 concluded raising and lowering speed limits had no effect on safety and the Montana experiment offered a unique proof in itself.


Q: If cops enforced all the speed limits all the time, nobody would speed!
A: But then who would pay for their new cruisers, in-car computers and communication upgrades every year?


Q: What about the future of our planet? Doesn’t a car burn more gas the faster you drive it?

A: It that was true, the official EPA “City” mileage figures would be better than the “Highway” ones. And they are not.

AutoWeek (April 24/06) had an interesting Earth Day cover story. They took an almost 400 mile trip, mostly highway to look at gas mileage on a variety of cars in their fleet. The part I want to relay is about the Corvette. It got 27.3 mpg while pacing the convoy at 75 to 80 mph while held in 6th gear. Here are the interesting sentences:

“You lose a little mpg past 65 mph, but the Corvette makes hay of the ‘haste makes waste’ argument at speed. As long as you hold the throttle steady, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re doing 65 or 85 mph, the fuel economy changes little.”

The story also reiterates that steady throttle openings, gentle accelerations, concentration on maintaining momentum and avoiding abrupt starts and stops is what gets you the best fuel mileage. Enforcing the keep-to-the right laws would have much greater impact on fuel savings than beating us over the head with “slow down – save gas” propaganda.

On-board computers make this easy to see.

For instance at around-town-speeds of 35 – 45 mph, a 2003 Dodge Durango 5.9 R/T with a big honkin’ V-8 gets 11 mpg. Cruising between 50 and 65 the average is 13 mpg. And at 80 to 85 mph it’s 15 mpg. A 1998 BMW 328is Coupe at 55-60 gets about 29 mpg, at 70 about 32 mpg, and at 75 it’s almost 35 mpg. Only after that it goes down again…

A number of years ago a friend ran a test using his 1987 Honda Accord (4 cyl, 5 spd). He drove from Newport RI to Washington DC, approx. 450 miles, at exactly 55 mph. He got 27 mpg. On the return trip three days later (the weather was the same), he drove like everybody else and averaged 75 mph. He got 32 mpg. That car was getting its best milage between 72-78 mph. So driving at 55 mph cost him money.

I had a 65 mile highway commute one way in the early 80’s. The difference between cruising at 75 mph and 55 mph was 168 hours per year. That’s about one full week in time or about one full month of 40 hour/week working time.

But anyway, that’s not why you get stopped, why you get fined, why you get points on your license, why you get insurance increases, why you can’t rent a car from Avis or get that job with the bus company. You’re being told “You’re a bad driver” and not “You have wasted natural resources.”

And besides, as someone once said, “The only non-renewable resource is time …”