A Forum About Modifying Speed Limits and Driver Behavior: NMA E-Newsletter #537

The April 15-16, 2019 conference in Ruckersville, Virginia was billed as a “national forum [seeking] to address the neglected problem of speeding.” The sponsoring organizations, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), are leading proponents of lowering speed limits with the goal of reducing highway fatalities to near zero levels. Both organizations are also supportive of automated enforcement, i.e., speed cameras, to ensure that drivers not in strict adherence with posted limits are penalized.

The purpose of the conference per GHSA was “to illuminate the issue of speeding and develop strategies to address this challenge, which continues to factor into nearly one third of traffic fatalities each year in the U.S. The forum will gather a diverse group of stakeholders to identify promising approaches to reduce speeding, prevent crashes and save lives. In addition, GHSA and IIHS will seek input from attendees to help shape a new pilot program to curb speeding in rural and suburban areas.”

The National Motorists Association and its membership are certainly among those stakeholders. Joe Bahen, an NMA Virginia life member and past Sentinel Award winner, graciously agreed to attend the IIHS/GHSA forum. His goal was to participate in the discussions, presenting motorist points of view while also establishing valuable connections with FHWA officials and other key players in the speed limit evaluation process.

Joe’s conference report:

As the NMA suggested, I attended the National Forum on Speeding to participate in the development of a model speed management pilot program.  I was pleased to see that IIHS and GHSA are considering the viewpoint of a large and diverse group of stakeholders.

The morning session was moderated by Pam Fischer, an outside consultant. She started the discussion by asking “what is speeding?” She asked if exceeding the posted speed limit by 1 mph is speeding. Several of the participants certainly feel that it is. However, Dr. Christian Richard of the Battelle Center said that everybody speeds by 1 mph or more. He pointed out that there are different types of speeders: a high speeder group that engages in extreme behavior, a moderate speeder group, and a low speeder group. For most drivers, speeding is driving above the enforcement threshold. A retired traffic judge spoke up and said that the judiciary does not want to deal with tickets for less than 10 over. Most seemed to agree that the pilot program should not target the low speeder group.

Mike Griffith, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Director of Safety Technologies, said that work is being done to “fill the gaps” in its USLIMITS2 computer program for determining safe speed limits in urban areas. My experience is that the program results in reasonable speed limits for limited-access freeways. I have not used it for non-limited access roads in urban or suburban areas.

Lt. Michael Rodriguez of the Buffalo Grove, Illinois, police said that it is common for patrol officers to have a daily quota for speeding tickets. Those officers typically go to their “fishing holes,” write three tickets and then go about their day. This gave me the opening to say that the first step in the pilot should be to have an engineer check the speed limit at the fishing holes using USLIMITS2. I then repeated “fix the fishing holes” during the afternoon breakout sessions. The only push-back I got was from Eileen McCarthy, a lawyer representing a D.C. pedestrian and bicycle group. Among her comments: “Engineers shouldn’t be the ones who set speed limits in cities.” “We need to make it challenging for vehicles to be in the city.” “Take parking out.” “What’s a child’s life worth?”

Most everyone there seemed to believe that automated enforcement is the solution to speeding problems.  Cameras are surely going to be part of the pilot.

I have no idea where the pilot is going to be or what it is going to look like. Nevertheless, I feel we should continue to urge that a spot speed study and a USLIMITS2 analysis be done at each location in the pilot where a speed camera is planned.

We should also monitor the forthcoming changes in USLIMITS2 and contact FHWA’s Mike Griffith if we find that the program results in unrealistic speed limits in urban areas.

The NMA raised alarms in the Fall 2018 issue of Driving Freedoms (“The Big Lie”) about concerted efforts to dump proven engineering standards for setting practical and safe speed limits, standards like the 85th percentile rule. The alternative being proposed seems to be an arbitrary and universal reduction of speed limits with a higher degree of enforcement. While that sentiment was expressed quite clearly by some during the IIHS/GHSA conference, the NMA’s participation through Joe Bahen has provided an avenue to continue influencing the discussion.

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3 Responses to “A Forum About Modifying Speed Limits and Driver Behavior: NMA E-Newsletter #537”

  1. Tom McCarey says:

    This “Forum” has aready made their conclusions and will use this venue to “vaildate” their dogma that everyone speeds and limits need to be even lower. What they really want is for everyone (except themselves, of course) to stop driving. Short of that, they want total control over what you do, and this is how they do it: incrementally (think, frog in a pot of water on the stove). They are the progressives who ignore human nature and insist that a “new man” can be shaped to their dictates. As anti-freedom as it gets.

    Tom McCarey

  2. Doug says:

    Speed is a factor in nearly one third of all traffic fatalities? The figure used to be 25%. And in reality the figure is actually 1,5% – 3% (up to 6% if you include people driving too fast for conditions but at or below a speed limit). The IIHs and GHSA have a monitary interest enforcing low speed limits which have no basis in reality. If insurance companies had no access to a driver’s records (as in most other countries) and governments were forced to send all speeding fines to a third world country, the Ruckersville conference would not have taken place.

  3. Pat says:

    It seems to me tailgating is a bigger factor, and tailgaters often speed once they get past the car they have followed too closely. Tailgating is dangerous, extremely annoying and stressful, and is not being taken into account that I can see. If the speed limits were set to 85% figure, I doubt if speeding would contribute to accidents nearly as much. Too much differential between speeds is also a problem. Trucks insisting on passing and taking forever to do it is a problem. This causes traffic to stack up, and such traffic is more dangerous. Furthermore, the practice of pulling people over on a freeway also creates hazards. People change lanes without being really careful about it. I have had trucks pull into my lane with only a foot or two of clearance between their back bumper and my front bumper. This is dangerous. Even police cars driving the posted speed limit which ignores the 85% factor causes the traffic to stack up and create a hazard. Speed cameras do not prevent accidents. They just milk the public. They’re not scratching the surface of the problem. They need to study, and they need to pay attention to the effect their enforcement methods cause. Giving someone a ticket when he has caused no harm, just creates scofflaws, and that is a major reason nobody pays attention to speed limits. Also the fact that speed limits change so frequently on the same road causes problems. I also have a problem I don’t think is unique. My dashboard is barely visible in bright sunlight. Trying to watch my speedometer while paying attention to the road and possible hazards is almost more than I can do. I can’t just glance at the speedometer. These people aren’t interested in safety. They are interested in the best way to collect lots of money. They make police the enemy and indirectly contribute to the carnage of police officers being killed in the line of duty.