Perspectives: Are speed limits for safety or revenue?

OPINION – Red, white and blue are supposedly the colors of freedom. But that’s not what most of us feel when we see them strobing in our rear-view mirror.

Most drivers, no matter how conscientious, experience a type of anxiety when they spot a police car while driving. This is particularly true when a police car is following us. It’s not that the police themselves are feared. It’s the recognition that some traffic laws constitute a type of negative lottery that few of us would wish to “win.”

Speed limit enforcement can be a good example of this. It’s simply a form of taxation by citation.

All of us have heard of or encountered speed traps in our travels. This is where the speed limit is set artificially low for the prevailing driving conditions and enforcement is very strict. Drivers don’t have to be doing anything unsafe; they merely have to exceed the speed limit by a singe mile per hour to be pulled over and cited.

The City of Leeds used to be notorious for nabbing motorists as they exited Interstate 15. If your speed hadn’t dropped to 35 mph by the time you hit the cattle guard at the end of the off-ramp, it was common to be cited for speeding. Leeds even attempted to boost revenue by offering its own traffic school so busted drivers could be “forgiven” by paying for and taking the class.

Thankfully this did not pass the sniff test and the city was forced to put an end to the practice a few years ago.

We’re often told that speed limits are all about our safety, but there’s an easy way to demonstrate this falsehood. When the national 55 mph speed limit was established in 1974, it was touted as a way to reduce energy consumption. However, after the imposition of the slower mandatory national speed limit, we were taught the mantra “55 stay alive” to promote safety.

Up until that time, most of the nation’s highways had a speed limit of 70 mph. What was considered a perfectly safe speed for highway driving suddenly became illegal simply by the enactment of an administrative law. This means that the roadside lectures about how “speed kills” were really little more than state-sponsored melodrama to justify punishing drivers for exceeding an arbitrary number.

Punishment for speeding varies from state to state, but a large majority of states threaten jail time and hundreds of dollars in fines. In some states, exceeding the posted limit by 20 mph constitutes reckless driving. At the very least that means an appearance before a judge, stiff fines, and a painful financial reckoning with the insurance mafia.

Again, the driver doesn’t have to have actually engaged in reckless or dangerous behavior, they need only exceed the posted limit by an arbitrary number. If the posted speed limit is 55, a person safely driving 76 could be charged with reckless driving. Remember, we’re not talking about darting in and out of traffic while shooting holes in road signs; only driving at slightly faster than the average flow of traffic.

Those who doubt the revenue enhancement angle of traffic enforcement should spend a few hours observing the courts that deal with traffic infractions. The size of the fines and the sheer amount of “customers” herded through on a daily basis is staggering. Few people will challenge a ticket since these courts are set up to be a collection point. But do all those fines really make us safer?

Contrary to what we may have been told, the percentage of accidents caused by speeding is actually quite low.

Traffic engineers have long maintained that speed limits should be set at or under the speed driven by at least 85 percent of drivers in free flowing traffic. Realistic speed limits would allow police to clearly distinguish between those who are driving dangerously and the reasonable majority.

The surprising truth is that slower isn’t always safer. By the same token, raising speed limits to a reasonable level doesn’t mean that motorists will simply drive faster.

The Utah Department of Transportation found that raising the speed limit to 80 mph on certain stretches of I-15 did not result in more crashes or more speeding. In fact, they found that the number of drivers exceeding the speed limit actually dropped by 20 percent.

Safe and courteous driving are commendable goals, but too many traffic laws have become a means to access your pocketbook.

 

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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36 Comments

  • Kellie Mzik September 16, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Bryan, Bryan, Bryan.

    As a self-described “truth seeker” you should be more careful about checking the facts and not just spouting opinion. The body of research related to higher travel speeds and number of fatalities is huge. The numbers are not, as you wrote, “arbitrary,” but rather correspond to significantly lower injury and fatality rates in study after study.

    http://www.iowadot.gov/mvd/ods/2006speedstudy.pdf (among a great many others)

    Also, speed traps, which are clearly illegal and not appropriate, are a completely different thing than normal freeway speed limits. Please don’t muddy your argument with quasi-related ancillary ones.

    So, because you claim that speed limits are an “arbitrary number” are you advocating for the elimination of speed limits? Should drivers be able to go any speed they like, any time they like? What about past your home while your kids are playing outside, or past the neighborhood school?

    Truth is, the data show that the higher the speed, the less likely the survival, and the more likely that those who do survive will do so with permanent, severe disability.

    While I know that, as a Libertarian, you support the idea of gov’t getting out of our business entirely, the truth is, our culture believes in caring for its own, and those severely disabled people will be cared for most often by yours and my tax dollars.

    Enforcing a reasonable, safer speed turns out to be for the benefit of all, not just a means of taxation by citation.

    • Bryan Hyde Bryan Hyde September 16, 2013 at 11:25 am

      Please do us both a favor and actually read the piece before stroking your chin and tsk tsking about what you think it might say. The links within the story provide adequate support to my premise that safety is not the overriding concern in setting some speed limits. Slower is not always safer and strict speed enforcement tends to serve the interests of the state or municipality, not the people.

      • philiplo September 16, 2013 at 8:01 pm

        Ha! You wrote that Kellie should “read the piece before stroking your chin and tsk tsking.”
        .
        And this is posted next to a picture of you stroking your chin, as you “tsk tsk” right back at Kellie.
        .
        Who knew you had a sense of humor?!

  • Fred Masters September 16, 2013 at 9:43 am

    It makes me wonder if you really though out your story prior to posting it, or if you just have a problem with the police enforcing what we expect them to enforce. If someone was speeding through my neighborhood a 25 MPH zone at over 21 MPH above the speed limit. I would consider that reckless. You may be implying to speeding on the freeway, but speeding in town can be unsafe. The faster you go, the longer it takes to stop when some knuckle head pulls out in front of you, or someone runs across the street. All to often you read about an accident where the car was speeding.

  • Lucky in Leeds September 16, 2013 at 10:22 am

    And when they couldnt get anyone to pull over coming off the Leeds exit, they always sat across from the church parking lot on Sundays and on I 15. They didnt get enough revenue to keep the Leeds Police Dept afloat. All we have had in the last few years its the ocassional Sheriff making random patrols.

  • Josh Dalton September 16, 2013 at 11:54 am

    I don’t even have to be speeding to be pulled over. Everytime the police are behind me they pull me over for DWB (driving while black). With that being said I have zero simpathy for people not following the speed limit or that feel “anxiety” when the police are around. Imagine how I feel! GO FALCONS!

    • Anarchy for All September 16, 2013 at 7:08 pm

      Yea, DWB is as bad as a DUI in this area. I suggest tinting your windows as dark as you can legally so it may deter them from seeing skin color.

  • Bretticus September 16, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Not really clear what you are saying here Bryan. Yes, if you increase the speed limits, there will be less speeding tickets. I suppose you mean because the speed limits are high enough to match the speeds which people typically feel safe drive at? I suppose that makes sense. Doesn’t mean we’re actually safe. You have to consider that while accidents may not be more prevalent the higher the speeds (although common sense dictates that this will vary from driver to driver and vehicle to vehicle,) your chances of surviving one decrease as your speed increases.

    Personally, I think cars handle better at higher speed and are safer than they were in 1974. I think that’s harder to argue with. Sorry, just can’t buy into the notion that every government law is based in conspiracy.

    The way speed limits are enforced is certainly a “lottery of chance.” I think that is a good thing. Imagine a law where we had to place a chip in our car where we couldn’t exceed the speed limit. It, at least, provides a deterrent to dissuade teenagers passing me at 100 on the freeway in the El Camino, or worse, doing 60 past my child’s school.

  • Richard September 16, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Asinine is the only word I have! Hell yeah 65 thru school areas, 80 around the neighborhood! Bryan can we use the street you live on as a testing ground? I can’t wait to go 120 on the highway. Parking lots will be fun!

    • seenmuch September 22, 2013 at 5:32 pm

      What is your problem, this post is the most a$$inine I have ever read! What is your malfunction?.?.?.?

      WT! are you talking about????

      This has not one thing to do with neighborhoods or school Zones……….

      NO one is saying we need to allow higher speed limits in school zones or neighborhoods, they have not one thing to do with the RURAL FREEWAY speed limit !.!.!.!.!.!.!

      Higher legal speeds that match the 85th percentile SAFE & COMFORTABLE speed are about safety and are always the safest speed on freeways & highways. Underposted limits that have not one to do what is actually safe on a given freeway or highway are about one thing, $.$.$.$.$.$.$.$.$.$.$.$.!.!.!.!.!.!

  • bob September 16, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    Sounds like someone is a little upset over getting a speeding ticket. Even if the speed limit is set “artificially low”, most cops don’t stop and cite people until they are 10 mph over the speed limit, because they understand that people are going to go a little faster than the speed limit. I’ve never heard of, or seen anyone get cited for “merely a single mile an hour over the speed limit”.

    As far as reckless driving goes, if someone comes down my street 20+ miles an hour over the limit. you better believe they deserve a ticket.

    Remember that driving is a privilege, not a right. If you do not want to abide by the rules and regulations set forth by society, then you don’t have to drive.

  • Tracie September 16, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    I lived in Montana during the “Reasonable and Prudent” speed limit era of the late 90’s. They finally had to bring back an actual speed limit because too many people weren’t reasonable or prudent.

    Of course there are speed traps. But c’mon. Speed limits are necessary.

    • seenmuch September 22, 2013 at 5:50 pm

      The data actually shows that posted limits have very little to do how fast drivers travel so really only serve one purpose, revenue!

      I too drove many thousands of miles across Montana during this time, the roads were safer during this time than they are today under numerical limits. I along with everyone else comfortably & safely would drive for hours on end @ 85-90 mph max across the state on freeways, ~70 was about as fast as I wanted to travel on two lane highways. So even without a numerical limit drivers did not drive much faster than they do under a posted 80 mph limit.

      The reason they went back to a numerical limit was political not safety related! the reason a numerical limit was adopted was that a person used the courts to refine the law to be that a officer must have some sort of proof to ticket someone for driving dangerously not just arbitrarily claiming someone was driving too fast. Some lawmakers thought that the law had become too vague to continue. The law was still able to do the job as written but due to pressure applied by lobbies that benefited(insurance lobby) from having posted limits they relented.

  • Gary September 16, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    LOL. It sounds like most did not read the story/watch the video. They would rather argue the absurd such as 65 through school zones, 80 through residential areas, and no limit on the freeway. People, remember what the question is: safety or revenue. If it is safety then the cop is visible and you slow down. If it is revenue the cop is hidden and you get a ticket.

    • Richard September 16, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      LOL. Golly Gee Gary do you need a cop around so you don’t commit offenses? Do you lack the self control to follow laws? If a cop is visible then you slow down, but since cops can’t be everywhere we have limits. Sorry you couldn’t figure out that my examples are showing that having speed limits is about safety. I will try and make it more simple for you next time.

    • Urban suburban September 16, 2013 at 7:04 pm

      I spot a hidden cop more than you know. And, if it were for safety, why wouldn’t all cars be governed at 65mph? Gout ya thinking now, huh?

      • Richard September 17, 2013 at 7:12 pm

        You don’t have me thinking at all!You spot hidden cops more then I know, so did you want a medal or just a certificate of participation? Your comment makes no sense. Why not govern all cars at 25? Got you thinking finally?

  • Steve Hughes September 16, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    Totally right on, Brian. Great article.

  • Tyler September 16, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Shame on the pig-ridden, corrupt way of Leeds!

  • pete September 16, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Great article. To avoid playing the ticket lottery, I am hyper-aware of any police on the road. If I see them, even when they are far away from me, I will exit the roadway ASAP to lower the chances of getting pulled over tremendously, and I DO NOT do this in an obvious, please pull me over type of way.

    . I also drive the exact speed limit, even though I am a mid-20’s male. I want to avoid all possibilities of dealing with law enforcement. I have absolutely nothing to hide, but I CANNOT put up with any power hungry, d-bag cops. I know all cops are not like that, but once again, more of a chance game. Will the police man that pulls you over be cool and give you a warning, nicely? Or will it be an overbearing, overpowering, plain mean cop who is having a bad day? Throw some numbers out there. How often will the encounter with police be a pleasant experience? I would say rarely.
    .
    I am not willing to take the chance myself. Are you?

    • Richard September 17, 2013 at 7:08 pm

      More then willing. Paranoia self destroyer!

  • good deeds September 16, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    The only way to change behavior is by issuing tickets. Warnings fall on deaf ears.

  • Roger September 17, 2013 at 7:42 am

    The main reason for speed traps and radaring in the shadows is it’s just another reason to get you pulled over. The main goal is to pull you over. At that point, the officer can check your identity, sniff around a little, check for wants and warrants, check for any laws being broken, search the vehicle, etc… and hopefully get an arrest. Getting you pulled over is first step in the goal of examining your entire life at the side of the road. Am I wrong??

  • Chris September 17, 2013 at 10:17 am

    So, what is the problem with simply obeying the speed limits? What is your hurry, Bryan? Since this is, at least, the second column in which you have railed against speed limits, I have to suspect that you have a problem with speeding and, probably, have received more than your share of tickets. Slower speeds are safer for everyone, and unless you have a legitimate emergency, there is really no rational reason to drive faster than the posted limit. Since you fancy yourself as a potential mentor on libertarian issues, I suggest you stick to subject matter that is really important to our liberty. There is no god given right to drive as fast as you wish.

    • Bryan Hyde Bryan Hyde September 17, 2013 at 12:28 pm

      I appreciate that you faithfully follow and comment on my columns, Chris. Thank you.

  • Doug September 17, 2013 at 10:32 am

    It has been estimated speed tickets in the US bring in around 8 Billion dollars each year. With that kind of money coming in, does anyone think those profiting from this scam are going to tell the truth?
    Those getting the money claim 25%-50% of accidents are caused by “speeding” but realistic studies have shown only 1,5%-6% are caused by driving too fast for conditions – even though some of these drivers were not even exceeding the speed limit. About 75% of the tickets written by the California Highway Patrol are for “speeding”.
    After the 55 MPH National Limit was repealed, Montana had no speed limit but one was instituted not because it was needed. The Governor was taking care of the powers that be and their vested interests. After several years of non-cooperation by the legislature, he finally got a 75MPH speed limit by having the “Reasonable and Prudent” speed declared unconstitutional. The following year, deaths were up 100% which, in typical government fashion, meant: Montana needed more officers and more enforcement.
    We here this same tired “Speed Kills” argument here in Europe. Italy, Czech Republic, Austria, all the Countries surrounding Germany say they need speed limits for safety – of course, the tens of millions of Euros they bring in doesn’t hurt. France has even admitted the proliferation of speed cameras they have installed these past few years is for money. Germany has no speed limit on 60% of its Autobahnen but it has one of the lowest death rates in Europe. It is also 40% lower than the US.
    Germany is the only Country on Earth which has done extensive and factual speed studies – meaning they have added and removed speed limits on various types of Autobahnen during different times of the year – and the results have shown, speed limits make no difference. Statistics also show, faster drivers (those who normally travel over 160Km/h) are less likely to be involved in an accident than drivers who travel 120Km/h or less.

    • Bender September 17, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      No comparison between the disciplined German driver and the idiot distracted left-lane-hillbilly-lifted-diesel-truck American driver. We’d have rolling gun battles on the freeways with no speed limit. We’re far too stupid.
      .
      In 2010 Montana had the 4th highest highway death rate. It was almost exactly double the national average.
      .
      Strictly speaking, speed does not kill. Energy dissipated bringing your SUV to a halt as it rolls end over end on a freeway embankment kills. Energy = speed^2.

      • seenmuch September 22, 2013 at 6:16 pm

        4th highest compared to what ????? A claim not backed up by the facts ………………Again a stat given to you by the insurance lobby, a stat that is another cooked up stat that leaves out all of the facts……………. All you need to know about that claim you are quoting is that the insurance lobby, the group that came up with that stat thinks you are too stupid to be given the stats included in that claim. Don’t believe it look at their response to the question of how did they come up with that claim……… …………..When you look at what they claim they always leave out the fact that this number is a given to you like it came out of a vacuum world where it matters not how many miles are driven across that state by the average driver. …………….For the real number on how safe it is to drive in that state it must include how many miles that average person drives in that state safely to get from place a to b……. The real collected data showed that Montana was one of the safest places to drive anywhere in the US during the Reasonable & Prudent time. A fact the insurance lobby always leaves out of their bullshrit proclamation………And that today Montana is less safe today with posted limits.

        When you look at Montana’s death rate per miles traveled it was actually lower under no numerical limit than north east states with lower posted limits!.!

  • Joanna September 17, 2013 at 10:41 am

    Ugh – I hate it when the argument of speed limits come up. It’s simple physics – if you hit something at 55 mph, it’ll do less damage than at 70. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s just common freaking sense. And as far as getting pulled over, all I can say is “People who have nothing to hide, hide nothing”. If an officer pulls me over for speeding and wants to “sniff around” for more, he’ll be pretty disappointed b/c he won’t find anything but an umbrella and an owners manual. I’m all in favor of issuing tickets, the more the better! And if I get one someday, it’ll be my own fault for failing to observe the traffic laws. As far as the video, it’s cute – like an SNL skit! I don’t recommend it for intellectual value, factual accuracy, or enlightenment, but it is good for a few laughs. And it has cartoon clips. Wheeee!

    (It’s also funny that the video contained the word “…” and “…” and “…” – but of course when I type those words in my comment, they’ll get edited out. That makes sense, right?)

    Ed. ellipses. Yes, Joanna, they will. The YouTube is not ours to edit, your viewer advisory is not a bad idea. 🙂

  • DoubleTap September 17, 2013 at 11:44 am

    In the words of a famous rock-n-roller……”CAN’T DRIVE 55!!”

  • Bender September 17, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Bryan, I can only read this as a discombobulated Objectivist rant. What’s your point?
    .
    A short physics refresher might help you understand the relationship between speed and energy. The kinetic energy in your 1973 AMC Pacer increases as the square of your velocity. What this means for you is that when driving down Maple Lane and Sister Olsen’s 4-year old darts out on her bike from behind a parked car, it takes you almost exactly twice as far to stop at 35mph as it does at 25mph. You can console Sister Olsen at the funeral by explaining to her that you were only acting in your own enlightened self interest.
    .
    Highway deaths are indeed down, but it has nothing to do with speed limits. Cars, thanks to federal regulation, are fantastically safer — air bag curtains, anti lock brakes, uni-bodies optimized to protect the passenger, etc. Were we all driving at 55 mph on the freeways, instead of 80 mph, the yearly death count would be even lower. It’s simple physics… less speed equals much less energy in a crash. (I don’t advocate a lower speed limit on the freeways… I like 80mph).
    .
    It’s hard to be ticketed for speeding if you pay attention. Consider that next ticket you get a tax on being stupid and not attentive to your surrounds while piloting 2500lbs of cold hard steel at speeds lethal to bystanders.

    • Bryan Hyde Bryan Hyde September 17, 2013 at 6:37 pm

      I have to hand it to you, Bender. Not many people resort to physics to create a strawman. No one is arguing the physics. Just that speed limits are not the panacea some hold them up to be and strict speed enforcement can tend to serve the interests of the state more so than the people.

      • Bender September 17, 2013 at 8:47 pm

        So enforcement of speed limits Bryan, you “fer it er agin it?” I can’t tell from your confused prose, but I suspect that the squawking about enforcement of speed limits is just a proxy for your larger Randian agenda. Most of us who read Ayn Rand got over our infatuation when we left our teens. I’ll leave it to you and the Dale Gribbles of the world to believe that free men will drive sensibly when left to pursue their noble causes without the crushing hand of government. The rest of us know better.

  • Gary Allred September 17, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    I have to agree with Bryan. I have a very good driving record and still manage to get zapped by a speed trap now and then. Speeding tickets are definitely more about raising revenue than promoting safety. Almost all citations are for speeding. Yet there are many other driving behaviors that present a greater threat to safety than speed. Some of them are: 1) Driving while talking or texting on a cell phone – including a hands free device! 2) Driving while distracted by eating, putting on makeup, combing your hair, adjusting your seat or mirrors, talking to a passenger, adjusting your DVD or stereo or any other activity that takes your mind off driving. 3) Pulling out in front of another vehicle which causes them to brake or swerve to avoid hitting you. 4) Following too closely. 5) Making abrupt maneuvers when changing lanes, turning or braking. 6) Driving too slow in the inside lane or considerably slower than normal flow of traffic. If these violations where given the attention speeding is, we would all be a lot safer on the highway.

  • GWHayduke September 17, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    You know, before there were speed limits, the standard was safety – is someone endangering others lives or property with his speed? No surprise, given that much discretion police abused their authority. So speed limits were created with the idea that as long as you were at or below that speed, the police couldn’t cite a driver. Didn’t take authorities long to figure out that they could manipulate speed limits in order to increase revenue, and the cycle continues.

    Moral of the story – anyone who has authority will find a way to exploit it for personal gain. That’s why we should allow as little authority as possible.

  • James C. Walker September 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    If safety is the goal, posted limits are set at the 85th percentile speed of free flowing traffic under good conditions, rounded to the nearest 5 mph interval. This produces limits that are safe, realistic, and that get very high compliance — 85% in fact and about 10% will be in the next 5 mph interval, so about 95% of the drivers will be under, at or just above the posted limit. This allows police to target the enforcement at those well above the realistic limits that are actually causing safety hazards.

    The method is correct for both highways and surface streets. If the 85th percentile speed is
    78 to 82, post 80
    68 to 72, post 70
    63 to 67, post 65
    58 to 62, post 60
    53 to 57, post 55
    48 to 52, post 50
    43 to 47, post 45
    38 to 42, post 40
    33 to 37, post 35
    28 to 32, post 30
    23 to 27, post 25

    This the 70+ year old proven science that almost always produces the smoothest and safety traffic flow with the fewest crashes. it also eliminates for-profit speed traps run with incorrect posted limits.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

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