NMA E-Newsletter #214: Prognostications, Shmognostications

Here are a few choice excerpts from an article titled “How Fast is TOO Fast?” that was published in Popular Mechanics. Most of the conclusions were drawn by the Stanford Research Institute, “one of America’s most respected scientific centers” and reinforced by the author of the article.

  • We can decide, right now, how many people we’ll kill in car crashes next year. It’s simply a matter of trading off lives against conveniences.
  • We could cut [the number of traffic fatalities] in half, though it would be a nuisance. It might cost each of us 11 more minutes driving time per day.
  • Modern traffic laws are an Alice-in-Wonderland dream that ignores reality. Traffic cops are as out of date as the horse and buggy; detection and ticketing of safety-law violators should be automated.
  • Thousands of lives could be saved by removal of driving privileges from high-risk drivers, including everyone under 21 and the elderly Medicare set.
  • Super highways are dangerous no matter what their designers believe; speed does kill no matter what we’ve been told.
  • Traffic deaths are climbing in spite of safer roads, safer cars, and safety campaigns. Within 20 years, at the present rate of increase, we’ll be killing 200,000 people per year. And we’ll be putting 600,000 into bed or wheelchairs with permanent disabilities. We’ll be inflicting other serious injuries on 18 million people per year, one person in every 14.
  • If all speed limits were cut in half (and enforced), traffic deaths would drop to about 6250 per year. Even a modest speed reduction of only 20 percent would spare 25,000 lives per year. This would mean reducing a typical 65 mph speed limit on freeways to 50 mph, reducing 50 mph rural highways to 40 mph, and imposing 15 to 20 mph limits on business and residential streets.
  • Interstates may reduce the fatalities per vehicle-mile, but whether they reduce the total number of fatalities has not been proved. There is the possibility that when drivers get used to higher speeds on interstates, they may go faster on other roads too, thus increasing the fatality rate on conventional streets and highways.

Now that we have you riled up—NMA followers know full well that as speed limits have increased since the repeal of the 55 mph National Maximum Speed Limit in 1995, highway fatality rates have been on a constant downward trend, reaching record lows in 2011 per NHTSA statistics—It is time to fess up. “How Fast is TOO Fast” was published in September 1967, over 45 years ago.

For good measure, the same 1967 issue of Popular Mechanics had this little tidbit:

“Electric cars pose a serious threat to the industry’s Big Three. According to Indiana University’s Dr. Lloyd D. Orr, electrics will wipe out the three-pronged advantage the giants have had over would-be competitors: the dealership system, the economics of mass production, and planned obsolescence. As he sees it, electrics will be durable and made of plastics, which means small manufacturers can get into the field and, thus, there will be many firms selling these vehicles. With trouble-free operation, the owner won’t be dependent on dealers for maintenance. “Probably this will lead to a supermarket selling of electric cars, with one dealer selling many different makes,” Orr said.”

In the spirit of good fun, the current editors of Popular Mechanics and the academics at the Stanford Research Institute are welcome to scour old newsletters from the early days of the NMA and the Citizens Coalition for Rational Traffic Laws to point out some of our predictions that have gone awry. We are comfortable that it is unlikely the NMA has ever swung so mightily and whiffed.

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