Editorial: I can’t drive 55


Recently, a reader of the Tribune wrote us of an observation they had made. While driving to work, they noticed four Asheville Police Department patrol cruisers with different people pulled over, and another two inconspicuously hiding. The reader posed a simple question, was this the original intention of law enforcement? To make law abiding citizens feel worried, uncomfortable, or even harassed? That seems a valid point.

The underlying question here seems to be, are speed traps the best use of our police force? In a time of school shooters, gang violence, and general safety on city streets, are speeders our biggest threat?

Perhaps the question of why speed traps exist should be addressed. They are based on the premise that the speed limit exists for your safety. Those who cross that number must be stopped, and fined for doing so. Speed kills is the adage, but is that the case?

Everyone remembers the famous 1973 federal law implementing the 55 mile per hour national speed limit. In 1987 it was raised up to 65 miles per hour. The idea behind this is, for the safety of everyone, there must be a posted speed limit. There are two assumptions here. One, that speed increases mortality. Two, that a fine and a sign will prevent people from speeding.

The first assumption was studied by Bennet K. Langlotz, J.D., B.S.E., Senior Analyst of the National Motorists Association Foundation. In 1995 Congress repealed the National Maximum Speed Limit. After the limit was removed, 29 states raised speed limits on some roads to 70 miles per hour or above.

Langlotz study fatality data from 1995 to 1997. This is what he found:

“The federal data shows that in 1997, after the majority of states increased their maximum highway speed limit, the total national fatality rate reached an all time record low of 1.64 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Between the comparison years, the national fatality rate dropped by 4.99%, with limit-raising states in the test group dropping by a greater 5.00%.”

Not only did vehicular fatalities not increase, nor did they stay the same, they actually decreased. Safer cars and safer drivers are most likely behind this, but one thing is for sure, speed apparently does not kill. If raising speed limits doesn’t increase danger, does exceeding them increase danger? That seems like a tough correlation to make.

The second assumption is that a sign and a fine will stop potential speeders. It is just like any other law, it is only abided by those who wish to. Everyone reading this has either speeded, or seen someone else speeding within the last twenty-four hours.

Furthermore, are six police cruisers setup to catch that one excessive speeder? Or are they lined up to catch anyone slightly speeding, en masse? It does seem like the easiest way to collect a large amount of revenue at once.

While this is not a critique of the fine men and women doing their job, it is a fact-based discussion starter. It may just be time to leave people driving to work alone and address other issues in our fine society.

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