Over on the How We Drive blog, a video campaign from the U.K. was featured highlighting just how important speed limits are. I think somewhere down the line in America the concept of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness came to mean get out of my way, I'm in a hurry. On 65 mph speed limit highways we go from an 80 cruising speed on off times to the other extreme of 5-10 mph nail biting at rush hour. On surface streets, synchronized lights, a technology for moving traffic in the morning, turns streets into drag strips at off times. Even in school zones, one of the most highly labeled areas for traffic speed regulation, cars above the speed limit and chatting on cell phones while sipping a latte are not that uncommon a sight. There are very damn good reasons we created speed limits in the first place, and no matter how much air bag puffery protects the driver, that doesn't do shit for everyone else using the road without a protective bubble.
Speeding in accidents is obviously more then just a reaction time and braking distance issue, it significantly influences the damage should an accident occur. "A pedestrian has an 85 percent chance of death when involved in a motor/vehicle collision at 40 mph, a 45 percent chance of death at 30 mph, and a 5 percent chance of death at 20 mph." [National Highway Traffic Association] This problem is exacerbated tremendously by the proliferation of SUVs, a vehicle many people have bought into thinking it will make them safer despite a significant increase in roll over crashes (creating a whole field of roll over accident attorneys).
The wide spread popularity of SUV's if anything make the road less safe for everyone. No where is this more apparent than in pedestrian collisions where the tall boxy shape of SUV's tend to trample over people rather than flip them onto the hood like on a conventional car. A few months ago in Glendale a woman driving her son to school was distracted and killed a sixth grade girl who was walking in a marked cross walk after other vehicles had already come to a stop. The driver was apparently going 10 mph, but due to the pedestrian trampling design of SUVs and short fragile bodies of the young, that's all it took to kill. The title of Ralph Nader's famous book skewering the auto industry, Unsafe At Any Speed, comes to mind when thinking of accidents like this.
In California if a surface street is monitored by radar for average speed, and it is found that 85% of drivers are above the speed limit, the speed limit is considered too low and recommended to be raised. This goes to show how ass backward stupid, heartless, and automobile centric California can be sometimes. They call this concept voting with your gas pedal. This is so ass backward as to be borderline insane. Shouldn't the fact that 85% of people are speeding show that law enforcement has completely neglected enforcing this street, and traffic engineers have failed to implement design that slows driver down. If 85% of people walk into a convenience store and steel a candy bar we don't legalize stealing candy bars.
Despite this obvious fault of logical reasoning, under this notion the Los Angeled Department Of Transportation has been hard at work trying to raise speed limits on dozens of streets despite community opposition by residents in many areas. In at least one of these cases a street with a bike lane would have it's speed limit raised to 50 mph. The LADOT apparently values the voting power of the gas pedal over the voting power of the parents or the Neighborhood Council.
Reducing speeding requires changes in behavior and attitude, but those changes will be hard to come by without real and substantial enforcement of our existing laws. Laws that are rarely taken seriously because even our own government doesn't take them seriously enough. The city and on a larger scale our whole state is in a budget crisis. I propose that we can fill some of that gap with increasing speeding tickets, both in quantity and in fee amounts. Perhaps with a sliding fee scale based on income bracket like in some European countries to punish the rich more proportionally since small infractions do not effect their budget enough to matter to them.
It's not hard to find people speeding in Los Angeles, and even easier in the outlying suburbs with their long blocks and wide lanes. Besides the obvious benefit to government revenue (which I would propose stay limited to transportation spending), this would have the added benefit of making the road safer by discouraging reckless behavior. Which in a round about way saves the government yet even more money by reducing demand for emergency response and medical care. It's a win win policy for everyone except those who think their getting around above the speed limit takes precedence over consideration for human life, whether that be their own or someone else.
(Here's a look at how a very small difference in speed can significantly effect safety for the driver as well. Keep in mind this is kph, not mph, so these are not even very fast speeds. This is not computer effects either, this was a real set up with stunt drivers and real crashes. )
So maybe you are driving an automobile when the speed limit in a residential area says 30 mph, traffic is kind of light so you feel like it would be no big deal to go 35, maybe even 40. That very well could mean the difference between life and death should the unexpected occur.