“A speeding ticket has roughly the same stigma as an overdue notice from the library. There's no Mothers Against Fast Driving. But there is a Speed Channel.”1
Videogames, commercials and films link speed to glamour and excitement, but the reality is much grimmer. In 2015 alone, 9,557 people died in speed-related crashes, accounting for nearly 30% of all traffic fatalities.
But unlike drunk driving, speeding 10, 15, or even 20 mph over the posted limit is routinely practiced by most American motorists with little thought to the danger involved, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, in 2017 more cars than ever before can be purchased which can exceed triple the top posted speed limit in most states. Surveys continuously find that although people name speeding as a threat to their safety when other drivers around them are speeding, most people still admit they speed when driving.
Media campaigns led by NHTSA have successfully reduced drunk driving fatalities and increased seat belt use, but have had little effect on speeding. Little progress has been made in reducing speed-related fatalities in the last 20 years. The 2015 number is down just 9% from the early 1980s, a reduction largely accounted for by safer vehicles. Compare this with drunk driving, which has been reduced by over 38% in the same time period.
Research shows that exceeding the speed of surrounding traffic results in precipitously higher crash risks, as seen in the following chart. 2
An analysis conducted by USA Today of speeding tickets from 1991, 1996, and 2002 confirmed the following:
- Although highway speed limits have increased by as much as a third, Americans are speeding farther above the new limits than they did above the old limits;
- Law enforcement are focusing on the most egregious offenders, largely ignoring those going 10 to 15 mph over the limit;
- Law enforcement ticketed three times as many people for going 100 mph or more in 2002 than they did in 1991.3
This, and the 41 million speeding tickets issued in 2015 suggests that Americans' preoccupation with speed-heightened by increasingly fast cars and a prevalent societal tolerance-is becoming more extreme. Unfortunately, this radicalization of America's love affair with speed is paid for in lives.
1 Rick Hampson and Paul Overberg. "Speeders outgun new limits," USA Today , February 23, 2004.
2 "Travelling Speed and the Risk of Crash Involvement," Centre for Automotive Safety Research, University of Adelaide http://casr.adelaide.edu.au/speed/results.html
3 Rick Hampson and Paul Overberg. "Speeders outgun new limits," USA Today , February 23, 2004.