ABC News provides this video to scare the crap out of you.
What is a safe speed limit? That is a very good question and deserves a very good answer. We know that in Germany the Autobahn has areas where there is no posted speed limit. Sometimes there are horrific accidents as a result of driver error. Most times there are not.
We also know that the US is currently experiencing the lowest accident rate in sixty years.
So what is the safest speed to be traveling? Zero is a good number. A speed limit of zero would ensure almost complete safety. That is ridiculous you say? I toss it out to make a point. There is a reason we travel on roads and highways. We need to get somewhere and we need to move goods across the land. Our mechanized alternatives are trains, aircraft, buses, trucks, cars, motorcycles, etc.
The invention of the automobile has changed how we live, our expectations, and how we interact. Prior to the introduction of the car most people never traveled farther than 25 miles from where they were born in their lifetime. Certainly the trans-continental railroad system changed people’s perspective on how far they could travel to look for life’s opportunities. The railroad also moved mass amounts of goods throughout the nation like never before and still does.
During World War II General Eisenhower was so impressed with the German Autobahn that as President he created the Interstate highway system that we benefit from. Because of it the automobile became not just a substitute for the horse and buggy, it became an expression of freedom and individual independence.
To be sure, it also meant that a new phenomenon, automotive fatalities and accidents. During the decade of the Vietnam conflict US citizens were outraged at the number of young American draftees killed in that Southeast Asian country. Even in its worst year it never exceeded the number of yearly fatalities on America’s highways and roads. While there was always concern as regards the road carnage, there were never mass demonstrations in the Nation’s Capitol.
The fact is that there is always a risk, a certain amount of danger, with driving no matter what the speed. Accidents happen at all kinds of speeds, from 15 mph to 150 mph. Certainly the rules of physics mean that the amount of potential energy results in far more damage as the speed increases.
So why do things work so well on the Autobahn? For one thing there is strict enforcement of lane discipline. Cars cannot hang out in the left lane or they will be cited by the police. Not even police cars can hang in the left lane and nothing happens when you blast past a police car in your BMW M3. You just better be alert for the Ferrari coming up on you are over 100 mph.
The road surface is fastidiously kept in top condition. When ever there is a degradation in the surface it is immediately repaired and not just patched.
You also won’t find cup-holders filled with drinks and drivers chatting it up on the cell phone. Driving is taken seriously and the licensing requirements echo that fact.
I have been a driver in an environment where I was driving and we were all driving as fast as we could – often exceeding 125 mph. We also were going in the same direction and passing was only allowed when waved on by the driver of the car ahead of you. It was on a road racing course during HPDE (high performance driver education). There would be nearly thirty of us on the track at the same time. These were cars that were driven to the track, not trailered race cars. Yes, there was risk. But everyone was paying attention to the task at hand and knew that they were dependent upon each other to know what was going on.
Yes, higher speeds carry risks and potential for more damage when accidents occur. So we can set the speed limit to zero and feel completely safe or we can require drivers to have much better training and exhibit appropriate behavior on the highways and roads that we share with our fellow travelers. A higher speed limit doesn’t have to mean a higher accident rate.
A good start would be enforcement of lane discipline nationwide.