The unrest in France symbolized by the Yellow Vest movement was triggered at least in part by the lowering of speed limits on roads throughout the country. In the United States, the traffic ticket industry has failed to draw any lesson from the French experience. On Tuesday, the association of state highway officials who collect and spend revenue from traffic tickets issued a report calling for a widespread reduction of posted speed limits in the name of Vision Zero.
“If we want to get to zero deaths on our roads, we need to address speeding on a much deeper and more comprehensive level than we have been,” Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) executive director Jonathan Adkins said in his statement announcing the report. “This clear and present danger on our roadways makes it imperative to devote additional resources toward getting drivers to slow down in order to save lives.”
The report claims that highway deaths had been on the decline from 2005 until 2015 when the trend “reversed,” a change the report attributes to speeding. This claim suffers from two fundamental flaws. First, the raw number of fatalities dropped significantly in 2008 because the number of miles driven nationwide plunged by 54 billion at the height of the Great Recession. Fatalities rose along with the extra 143 billion miles being driven in 2016 compared to 2007. The available latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that, in the first half of 2018, the fatality rate — the measure that takes traffic volume into account — was 1.08 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. In 2008, the rate was 1.23.