Can't Drive 55: America's Dangerous Love of Speeding

While most Americans agree that speeding is a threat to public safety, dysfunctional laws and inadequate enforcement perpetuate a culture of tacitly sanctioned high-speed driving.

2 minute read

December 26, 2021, 7:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Highway Speed

Hayk_Shalunts / Shutterstock

"In the first six months of 2021, projected traffic fatalities in the U.S. rose by 18 percent, the largest increase since the U.S. Department of Transportation started counting and double the rate of the previous year’s surge." As Henry Grabar writes in a piece detailing the history of the speed limit in the U.S., this can be attributed in part to more speeding induced by empty roads during the pandemic. Yet Americans continue to speed nonchalantly: half of drivers surveyed said they've gone more than 15 miles over the speed limit in the past month.

The nation’s most disobeyed law is dysfunctional from top to bottom. The speed limit is alternately too low on interstate highways, giving police discretion to make stops at will, and too high on local roads, creating carnage on neighborhood streets. Enforcement is both inadequate and punitive.

While the data on whether speed causes more crashes shows conflicting results, it is clear that crashes that do occur at higher speeds cause more severe injuries.

One solution, according to Grabar, is automated speed cameras. New York City, which installed a network of 750 cameras near city schools, saw a 72 percent reduction in speeding. But the concept is controversial to some civil rights advocates who say the cameras still target communities of color unfairly. Meanwhile, others argue that cameras provide a safer enforcement option than physical encounters with police, which can turn deadly.

Grabar suggests three changes that could make American roads safer: replace rural intersections with roundabouts, narrow city streets, and implement other traffic calming measures; improve driver education; and regulate speed through technology in vehicles themselves, a tactic gaining ground in Europe.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021 in Slate

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