9.15.2008

How to Reduce Fatal Car Accidents

I am writing today about something that is not exactly a lean topic. However, for reasons I’ll explain shortly, I feel compelled to comment on what some other writers are saying about driving and speed-limit laws.

Wall StreetJournal columnist Stephen Moore
recently attacked environmental groups and Republican Sen. John Warner, both of whom suggested a return to a federal 55-mile-per-hour speed limit as a way to conserve energy. Kevin Meyer, in the Evolving Excellence blog, agreed with Moore.

Moore argues that most drivers disobeyed the law; that the law reduced gasoline consumption only a little, and only during a brief period of strict enforcement, and that reducing the federal speed limit does nothing to save lives. In support of that last point, he cites a variety of statistics, including some showing that traffic fatalities actually fell during the decade after the lower federal speed limit was repealed in 1995.

Moore’s statistics are accurate, but they may not tell the whole story. In regard to the fatality rate falling, the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that “An 81-percent seat belt use rate nationwide and a reduction in the rate of alcohol involvement in fatal crashes — to 41 percent in 2006 from 42 percent in 1996 — were significant contributions to maintaining this consistently low fatality rate.”

In other words, raising the speed limit might have led to more fatalities if it hadn’t been for more people wearing seat belts and drinking less alcohol. However, that’s just speculation on my part.

It might also be tempting to conclude from Moore’s comments that speeding and fatalities are unrelated. And that is not true. The NHTSA comments, “In 2006, speeding was a contributing factor in 31 percent of all fatal crashes, and 13,543 lives were lost in speeding-related crashes.”

This subject is a sensitive one for me. My son died in a car accident five years ago. He was 21 years old. Speeding was one factor in the crash.

So am I advocating a return to the lower speed limit? No. I’m inclined to agree that it would be ignored by most people and wouldn’t do much to save lives or energy.

One reason it might not save many lives, Moore says, is that “The evidence is overwhelming that traffic safety is based less on how fast the traffic is going than on the variability in speeds that people are driving. The granny who drives 20 mph below the pace of traffic on the freeway is often as much a safety menace as the 20-year-old hot rodder.”

That may be true. However, while I appreciate that Moore was attempting only to comment on speed-limit laws, I believe it is important to go beyond that and consider what WOULD make a difference.

So let’s try to think in lean terms and do a little root-cause analysis. Why do people speed? One factor, as Moore suggests, is that people like to get where they are going quickly. Another, which I believe is probably more important, is that people simply like to go fast – an attitude ingrained in them by a culture that portrays speeding, in movies and television, as really cool.

But there is something else to consider: People speed because they can. Because their cars allow them to.

If the maximum speed limit anywhere in the U.S. is 75 mph, then why are virtually all the motor vehicles sold in this country capable of going 90 mph, 100 mph, or faster? There are reasons, but none of them are good. It would be fairly easy to make cars and trucks – with existing technology – that are incapable of going faster than a specified limit.

We can debate what that limit should be. And yes, I’m sure there are plenty of people who wouldn’t like it. But I believe cars should be made this way, and I am hopeful that sooner or later they will be. Perhaps a clever auto manufacturer might begin by offering built-in speed limits on vehicles targeted to parents buying cars for their sons and daughters going off to college or just starting adulthood.

It might save lives. And who knows? It might even save some energy as well.

10 comments:

sonam said...

car accident ireland
thanks for the nice post... such small acts can help a lot in decreasing the death rate....

Japanese Used Cars said...
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