After our discussion of motorcycle top speeds the other day it was interesting that this article appeared addressing the issue of higher speed limits. The gist of the article is that as speed limits have increased, highway deaths have gone down, something you never hear from the bureaucrats who want to control your behavior “for your own good.”
Speed limits were dropped to the infamous 55mph during the first oil embargo but, as often happens with many “temporary laws,” stayed in place when the original justification for the lowered limit went away. Predictions of higher death tolls on the highway were used to justify keeping the lower limits in place.
This may seem non-controversial now, but at the time the debate was shrill and filled with predictions of doom. Ralph Nader claimed that “history will never forgive Congress for this assault on the sanctity of human life.” Judith Stone, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, predicted to Katie Couric on NBC’s “Today Show” that there would be “6,400 added highway fatalities a year and millions of more injuries.” Federico Pena, the Clinton Administration’s Secretary of Transportation, declared: “Allowing speed limits to rise above 55 simply means that more Americans will die and be injured on our highways.”
Finally, after it became apparent that almost no one obeyed the old limits anymore, the states were allowed to set their own limits and many promptly raised them to 70mph, some to 75mph and Texas is now at 80mph, which simply reflects reality and often very wide open spaces.
Funny thing happened, as time went on and speeds were increased, highway fatalities per mile went down, exactly the opposite of the dire predictions. With safer roads and not having to constantly be on the lookout for radar speed traps, ready to jam on the brakes at a moment’s notice, people could actually relax and drive. Numbers like these are downplayed by those who have their own reasons for controlling the behavior of others.
Recently, another report on motorcycle accidents, cited rising injuries and fatalities and pointing to the repeal of helmet laws, builds the case to reinstate those laws. What is not mentioned, but becomes apparent if you dig into the numbers, is that though motorcycle accidents and deaths rose, there was a greater increase in motorcycle registrations and miles ridden so, in fact, accidents and deaths per mile ridden went down. That doesn’t fit into the preconceived notions of those who want more laws and restrictions so it’s conveniently overlooked.
Although many drivers and riders are injured or killed every day, the quick fix by restriction and regulation is often no help at all and very possibly counter productive. Is there a way to eliminate highway fatalities? Unless you eliminate driving and riding altogether, no. Can they be reduced? Possibly, but accidents are a fact of life and without draconian measures and restrictions on your ability to travel, or some self sprung dramatic improvement in the skill level of all drivers and riders, accidents will continue to show up on the evening news. Focus enforcement on those who are obviously reckless and dangerous and let everyone else travel in peace. We’ll all be better for it.
The Kneeslider: Production Motorcycle Top Speed Records