Wednesday, June 23, 2010

OMG!!! You're driving so FAST!!!

We're in Pennsylvania helping Jessica move into her new apartment, and as usual, I have (a) complaint(s) about Pennsylvania and Erie, her new hometown.

Pennsylvania seems not to have gotten the memo that the National Maximum Speed Limit  (you know...  '55 Saves Lives')  has been repealed...  in 1995.  Pennsylvania's Interstate highways are still posted with the old double-nickels.

If you check the Internet for statistics relating speed to highway fatalities, all you get are opinions  --  no hard facts, just  "we feel strongly that...".  Nobody wants to tell you what happened in Montana when NMSL was repealed.

When Congress finally faced the reality that NMSL was widely ignored  (despite a change in 1987 allowing '65' in rural sections), they repealed it in 1995.  Montana immediately  (April 1)  went to no numerical speed limit for their interstates.  Their rule was  "reasonable and prudent".

In the first nine months of R&P, Montana 'suffered' a 28% decline in highway fatalities.  You're shocked;  I can see it on your faces.  "You mean I can do 150 and I'm safer than at 55????"  Not precisely.  At 150, if you have an accident, it will be memorable to everyone not involved;  you'll be dead as a doornail.  It's just that under R&P, accidents happen less frequently.  Can you guess why?

There are two primary reasons:

With no speed limit per se, you won't have some fossil out there in the left lane 'doing the limit' and feeling justified about being a law-abiding citizen.  With no limit, such drivers are forced to the realization that headlights behind them means they are 'slower traffic' and they move to the right lane and stay there.  The technical term for this behavior is 'lane discipline'.  It is the primary feature of the safest roads in the world.  It's the reason the German Autobahn has such an enviable safety record.

The second reason was 'leaked' to me by a cousin who is a minion of justice on Long Island:  '55' is fast enough to kill you, but slow enough to make you think you're safe.  People who shouldn't be on the road at all then go driving at this safe speed and leave tragedy in their wake.  In Florida we see this all the time:  some Q-Tip driving the limit (or under) in the left lane (often with their left-turn signal blinking) because four miles ahead they have to turn left.  Their erratic driving style can cause accidents that they simply drive away from.  With no real speed limit traffic becomes, to the eyes of these 'road hazards', chaos and they abandon the high-speed roads to drivers who can actually drive.  Incautious drivers who overrate their own ability to drive soon become 'Darwin Award winners'.  What remains are cautious drivers with adequate skills, and you have an American Autobahn.

Postlude to Montana:  under severe criticism from many quarters, not the least of which were localities whose speeding-ticket revenues went to zero, and insurance companies (fronted by their lobbying group, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety -- IIHS) who therefore had little or no reason to arbitrarily raise rates on individual drivers, the Montana legislature a few years later repealed R&P and set a fixed numerical speed limit.  Montana's highway fatality rates obediently rose to near-historic levels.

It is widely recognized in medicine that 'quack remedies', even if they themselves are 'harmless', actually cause harm because they displace remedies which work.  The same is true of 'quack legislation'.  When we let organizations such as IIHS lobby legislatures for laws which benefit their constituents (in this case, the 80 insurance companies which fund its operations) we are the ones who suffer.

* * * * * * * * *

Beautiful Downtown Erie PA:  Norene and I had occasion to go looking for an ATM that wouldn't charge us an arm-and-a-leg to make a withdrawal and so found ourselves driving north on State Street in Erie into the heart of deepest downtown.  While stopped for a red light, I noticed that the next light was green, the next red, the next green, and so on.  Because of the way the lights cycled, we stopped at every cross street all the way to our destination.  It sure guarantees you won't speed through downtown, but it also guarantees that no one will actually want to go there, either.  It has certainly cured both of us of any desire to see any part of Erie that can't be viewed from the interstate at the legal maximum speed as we flee the control freaks of PA.

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