82 thoughts on “A Really Excellent Way for America’s Automakers to Go Under

  1. Three primary things seem to define the human being:

    1) Violence.
    2) Compassion.
    3) The overwhelming urge to meddle in other people’s affairs.

    The first two I can mainly live with. I blame the Gulf of Follicle (as I call my hairline) on the third.

  2. I love the suggestion about letting EZ-Pass determine your over all speed and issue a ticket. When Fastlane (EZ-Pass in the state of MA, we just have to be different) was about to go live a group preemptively took the Mass Turnpike Authority and the State Police to court to specifically make sure they wouldn’t be able to do that exact thing.

  3. Because there is never a safety-related reason that I might need to, say, jam on the gas to avoid being creamed by a semi or something. No, it’s much more important to make sure that I am obeying every single minor traffic law at all times.

  4. #6 Lisa: Totally. And, just like with illegal downloading — it won’t stop everyone anyway! Home tinkerers would have the cruise control removed/adjusted within a few days of the first car rolling off the assembly line. And — would older cars have to be retrofitted?

    It might just be the need for speed in me, but I think it’s an absurd suggestion. You can take my ability to speed from my cold, dead, mangled body — uh, wait…

  5. On a few seconds reflection, isn’t ubiquitous vehicle tracking in contravention of the Fourth Amendment? Certainly the spirit of it, if not the letter.

  6. In Spain once we rented a car that would go *pong* every time we nudged above the speed limit. Drove us freaking crazy. Danged socialism.

  7. Haplo @5: I’m told that the NJ Turnpike used to do this very thing — but stopped when people started avoiding the Turnpike. The toll revenue dropped too much.

    I’m not sure that the story is true, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

  8. You know, I grew up in the 70′s, back when 55mph was the law, and believe it or not we actually managed to travel and see the country. It’s not like commerce and recreation came to a screeching halt. My perspective is also shaped by the fact that I work in health care, and I’ve witnessed a lot of suffering and tragedy from car accidents. Car vs. car, car vs. tree, car vs. motorcycle, car vs. little old lady — there are lots of different ways to hurt yourself and others with a car. And speed makes it so much worse; there is so much less margin for error. Reaction times are shorter, and you’re dealing with that much more kinetic energy.

    So I’m going to have to go ahead and invite the wrath of Scalzi, because in this instance the Times is right and you’re, um, wrong. How can you defend speeding, really? It’s dangerous, it’s wasteful, and you don’t really save that much time. I don’t know about rural Ohio, but in congested urban areas accidents really mess up the flow of traffic. Lanes are closed — sometimes the whole interstate is shut down — traffic piles up, and basically it’s a positive feedback loop for more aggressive driving and more accidents.

    The fact is that speed kills — you can’t really argue it. (Well, I guess you can argue it, but only in an obstreperous fashion analagous to a young-earth creationist denying evolution.) So really, how can you justify the demonstrable increase in accidents and highway mortality resulting from speeding? How can the desire to drive fast trump the clear public safety benefits of setting reasonable speed limits and sticking to them?

  9. Profoundly stupid argument. cruise control and governors will never work.

    And besides, many town actually rely on speeding ticket revenue to function.

  10. Misanthrope:

    You’re completely missing the point. The point isn’t whether speed limits are a good idea or not, nor have I offered an argument one way or another on the issue (I made an observation, which is not the same thing). The point is that people won’t buy cars whose top speed is dictated purely by government fiat. On the exceedingly small chance that such a thing were ever attempted by car makers, the poor car would not once make it out of the dealer’s showroom.

  11. I do what I’m supposed to and drive the speed limit or less on the interstate and highways. I probably break it in our community. I honestly don’t know about that. Otherwise, I follow the law. I assume it’s there for a reason, and I actually think the current limits are too high.

    Maybe we should just teach responsibility.

  12. it would also completely kill the market for sports cars. A Corvette that can’t do better than 75, no matter what, even if you take it to a track where the speed limit isn’t a concern? Yeah, that’s really going to appeal to people.

  13. I’m not sure I’m *completely* missing the point. More than anything else I’m reacting to your last sentence, when you observed that speed limits exist so that you can exceed them (I’m paraphrasing, obviously). I took that to be an endorsement of speeding. Was I wrong to do so? If so, apologies.

  14. Considering that Germany’s autobahn, where there is no speed limit, has an excellent safety record
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autobahn#Accident_record
    I have to say that speeding may not be the root cause people claim it is.

    Aside from that, imagine you’re going 75 on the freeway, since everyone would always be going exactly that fast if governors were implemented, you have someone riding your bumper, no one in front of you and the semi to your left decides to come into your lane. With a governor in place, you’re dead; no governor, not so much.

    I suspect that the woman who wrote that article cherishes a dream of being the country’s new ‘speeding czar’ more than a dream of safer roads.

  15. Misanthrope:

    “I took that to be an endorsement of speeding. Was I wrong to do so?”

    As I mentioned, it’s an observation, i.e., whatever the speed limit is, people are generally traveling five to ten miles per hour faster than it, in my experience. Thus in Ohio, where the speed limit on the freeway is 65, people are going 70 to 75; in Michigan, where it’s 70, I see people doing 75 to 80.

  16. I got as far as:

    “Speeding…substantially reduces fuel efficiency due to the sheering force of wind”

    Really? The SHEERING[sic] force of wind? Is that your final answer?

    I’m guessing under-inflated tires reduce efficiency because the Coriolis effect?

  17. people won’t buy cars whose top speed is dictated purely by government fiat

    I don’t think it’s a good idea, or that Mr. Sepkowitz makes a good argument for it, but his proposal is that the federal government regulate the auto industry and require that all cars have a 75-mph cap. I doubt that if such a regulation were put in place that nobody would ever buy another car. Or even that most people who were buying a new car would instead… um… Fly to Canada to buy an unregulated car and drive it home? I can’t see this slowing down sales much, honestly, even though it’s a stupid, unworkable, intrusive regulation that wouldn’t even decrease traffic fatalities much.

    Thanks,
    -V.

  18. First of all, America’s automakers are already doing a good job killing themselves off (I know–my spouse works for one). And second, while I don’t agree that anyone should be driving 95 and swerving in and out of traffic in 2000+ pounds of metal, I do think that people should be a bit more concerned with all of the dangerous crap that people do BESIDES, yanno, pay attention to the road while they drive. Excessive speeding may kill many hundred people a year, but how many are killed and maimed because some numbskull drives and talks on a cell phone, watches a DVD, puts on makeup, and eats a mega-bacon burger at the same time? (no offense to bacon-lovers everywhere–it’s not the bacon’s fault)

  19. Vardibidian:

    “I doubt that if such a regulation were put in place that nobody would ever buy another car.”

    Probably not, but there are also lots of people who would put off buying a new car as long possible specifically to avoid such limits, or would buy a used car rather than a speed-governed new one. I would.

    You just need a couple years of this to cripple the auto industry. Again, one suspects the fellow writing the piece would see this as a feature, not a bug.

  20. The current state of speed limits and the perceived “Speed Limit +5″ attitude of a lot of drivers is a direct result of politics, not safety or common sense.

    Speed Limits are set by law, and the law in most states says:
    a) Thou shalt not exceed XX MPH on Y kind of road.
    b) Lower speeds shall be determined by an engineering study unless otherwise dictated by law.

    The problem lies with speed limits set unreasonably low according to B. If you have a roadway set at 55 MPH but is designed and “feels” like 70, people will drive 70. It’s a fact and that won’t change, not even if you enforce it to death. Sure, 15% or so of the drivers will adhere to *whatever* speed limit you set and 15% or so of drivers will exceed the same, but the majority of drivers will driver what feels comfortable, and that is determined by design, by density, and by regional factors, not by a 30″x24″ Black on White sign on the side of the road.

    John, your comment about “the speed everyone will exceed” is only accurate because it’s *made* to be accurate by the policies of speed limit setting.

    Misanthrope, it’s not speeding that causes so many safety hazards, it’s differential speeds. That’s why an unreasonably low speed limit is actually less safe than one that is higher. (I’m ignoring those persons who crash and die or kill because they are *unreasonably* speeding, that’s not the fault of the speed limit)

    I’ve got whole podcasts about this stuff. Argh, this gets my dander up. It’s not the roads, it’s the people. It’s not the speed, it’s the difference. You can’t enforce a low speed limit, because as soon as the cops leave, people are right back at the old travel speed.

  21. I hate to say it, especially because my father is a fine doctor and a very level-headed guy, but it seems that whenever a doctor is given an outlet to speak about politics they come out endorsing a helmet-and-seatbelt police state.

  22. “Our continued, deliberate production of potentially law-breaking devices has no real precedent.”

    This is the line that really gets me. It seems to have no basis in anything really. Don’t we produce handguns? There’s really no way you can break the law with those. Right??

    I can break the law with my car. I can break the law with my computer. If I’m creative enough, I can probably break the law with just about everything I own.

  23. It isn’t the speed that kills it is the sudden stop.

    One of my favourite experiences was driving at almost 200kph on the autobahn in Germany. I was thinking this is cool when a little old lady in a teeny little car went whizzing by.

    On a serious note, I don’t know about the US but in Oz it is usually speed plus some other factor like alcohol that is the killer. Of course the authorities always blame speed but speed in itself is usually only a factor when the driver responsible is a young, usually under 25, male. The death rate in my state, New South Wales, is at a a 60 year low. More people were killed on the roads in the 1940s than now. The fatalities per population are the lowest ever but according to the police and politicians the carnage continues and impose more and more fines and restrictions. We call that revenue raising.

  24. re: Bill Ruhsam’s last point, I’ve seen less super-fast speeders and close calls since speed limits have gone up. When the speed limit is 75, I almost never see anyone over 80 so you have fewer people flying up and suddenly appearing on your bumper.

  25. I’m of two minds on this, just as I am when it comes to things like helmet and seatbelt laws.

    It’s one thing when your reckless habits endanger only yourself – personally my spin is that if you want to risk weeding solely yourself out of the gene pool, fine by me.

    On the other hand, when your reckless habits endanger me and mine, well then I think I’ve got the right to stick my nose into your business.

    I live in Alaska, where road conditions are very often sub-optimal for a rather large variety of reasons. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been damn near killed by some dipshit who doesn’t seem to understand that a four ton SUV doesn’t handle worth a shit when it’s doing 85MPH on black ice or when it’s plowing through a herd of the local wildlife. As bad as that is, it’s nothing compared to the retards on the highway in S. California where I lived for a while. No matter how high the speed limit, there’s always group of idiots who just feel it is their right to risk my life by zig-zagging at high speed through traffic.

    The problems with depending on drivers to show common sense and obey the speed limit is that, well, a lot of them don’t – a significant fraction of people behind the wheel are reckless idiots with no regard or comprehension of the risks they pose to either themselves or others.

    Does that mean I want the government to regulate every damned thing that might pose a risk to me? No. But there is no conceivable reason to own a car that that can break the sound barrier either.

    Personally I think that in a society where we are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty (unless it comes to air travel, heh) it might not be a bad idea to require installation of such a governor/speed regulator on the vehicles of those who are found guilty of repeated and excessive speeding. Personally, if it was up to me, I’d pull their damned licenses for life, put them in jail for good long while, and fine the shit out of them – risk my life, reap the whirlwind, but, hey, that’s just me.

  26. One of my favourite T.V. shows of all times were the “Yes Minister” and “Yes Prime Ministers”. For those who don’t know they involved the antics of a somewhat dim-witted minister (and then prime-minister) and his Deputy Minister (I think in Britain they are called permenant secretaries). The show was funny because of how close to the truth this show was.

    One of the shows Sir Humphrey (the permenant secretary) talked about the dangers of the “something” fallacy. The fallacy went like this:

    1) This is terrible something must be done.
    2) This is something.
    3) Therefore we must do this.

    This person’s suggestion seems to exhibit all the elements of the “something” fallacy.

    There are some issues with this. One that jumps out at me is that the article quite clearly conflates the number of accidents where speed is an issue with the number of accidents where one of the speeders was going in excess of 75 miles per hour. They are not the same # and I would guess that the number of people killed because of going in excess of 75 miles in hour is much smaller than the 13,000 deaths. Putting a speed limiter in a car would not prevent an accident involving someone goin 55 miles per hour in the midst of a city street.

    Rather stupid idea really

    Cheers
    Andrew

  27. I have long argued for type certification for drivers. If you want to buy a 300 horsepower sports car, or a three ton SUV, to drive on the street, you should have to prove you are capable of doing so. Otherwise, back into the Civic you go. Come back when you learn to drive.

  28. And if I had to choose between a beer that “tastes like piss” and an actual pint of urine I’d take the beer, too. Doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.

  29. I consider speeding to be natural selection of a sort. Many years ago I was an EMT. We scraped bodies of speeders, sometimes literally, off the road. Motorcycles were sometimes the messiest…sometimes. There were a couple of car accidents that were unimagineably gross.

    Those foolish enough to drive to fast for the road conditions, end up dead or worse. While I’d like to say “Hey, sucks for you dummy.” the truth of the matter is non-violators get weeded out too when the speeders whack them at 70 miles per hour.

    While I know it’s not acceptable in a free society to regulate many behaviours, it sure sucks to scrape a little kid off the pavement when nature deselects them via high speed driver.

  30. Forgot to mention at #27 that nearly 25% of New South Wales road fatalities were pedestrians. Not sure if they were speeding or not.

    I remember hearing a long time ago that more than half the accidents involving a motorcycle and a car where the motorcyclist survives were found to be he fault of the car driver. In the accidents where the motorcyclist dies 100% of the accidents were found to be the fault of the motorcyclist.

  31. I don’t honestly know if anything will save American car companies anyway, at least as American car companies. Something like a governor technology of any kind would just further strain them while also reducing overall sales, so yeah, one more nail.

    As for it killing sports cars because of the limitations at the track, there’s a Japanese car that limits you unless the GPS notes you are at a track. That said, people who would normally buy them wouldn’t, because they no longer quite offer the “outlaw” image that person was going for.

    One really good question, which may be presented in that droning article that I haven’t been able to muddle through, is what about existing cars. Would you be required to get retro-fitted with devices? Who pays for that? Would we expect people that own $300 beater cars to pony up $200 for something that offers no advantage? Would we, as taxpayers, want to pay for that, for every car currently on the road?

    Overall I sort of go along with Basil Sands. Sort of. Would they have lived if they were whacked at 55 or 60? Probably not, that’s still pretty fast. It isn’t really honestly natural selection, since the numbers are still too small to make a dent and matter in an evolutionary sense, but it’s one of the few population controls our society has. I know it’s a cold way of thinking, and no I really don’t _want_ to have someone die in a car crash, but the fact of the matter is that there are far too many people alive these days. We’d probably be better served, overall, by cars that focused on being lightweight and efficient rather than safer.

    I’m ok with them being less powerful, certainly, but leave all that up to the market. I’ll buy my Daihatsu Death Box and you lot can have your Ford Dream Crushers. The point is that we get to decide individually.

    I mean, seriously, why the hell do cars still weigh so much?

    Ok, there’s a few people I wouldn’t mind seeing die in a car crash, such as anyone that wants yet more surveillance of our daily lives and interference with our abilities to choose.

    Sorry for the long ramble.

  32. PeterP:I don’t know about the US, but here in Israel we have to pass a practical test and we still seem to have a lot of accidents.I suspect it has something to do with our national character and the climate- people here tend to be somewhat easy to anger, especially in the hotter summer.

    As to speeding and traffic accidents, from what I was told when I was learning the mandatory safety course that failure to keep lane was the main reason for accidents- a speeder keeping to his lane is less likely to cause an accident then a non-speeder who’s wandering over half the road.The problem is that enforcement against it is next to impossible.

  33. I don’t think that limiting the speed at which cars can travel will have the effect this author presumes. He is looking at all deaths from speeding, not at all deaths from speeding on freeways.

    I don’t have any statistics at hand, but my impression is that most deaths from speeding happen when someone misses a curve while driving too fast, but still not over 75 mph. Driving 50 in a 25 or 35mph speed zone probably causes more deaths than any amount of speed on the freeway.

    Changing speedometers so that freeway speeds are on the right half of the dial would probably have a greater effect. I know whenever I drive my mother’s car I tend to speed because 60mph on her speedometer is on the left side of the dial while 60 is straight up on mine.

  34. The idea that speeding by itself is a major cause of traffic fatalities in a misleading one. The main reason that speed is a factor in fatalities is because of large differentials in speed. In other words, someone driving twenty mph below the speed limit is just as much a danger to other drivers as the person driving 20 mph above the limit. But you rarely hear meddlers like the author mentioned above wanting to put a stop to people driving too slow. And let’s get a bit of perspective while we’re at it. 13,000 deaths a year in a nation of 300 million is a tiny number. Smoking claims 300,000 lives a year. Suicide takes 12,000. The guy needs to get a grip on reality and find some other more important cause to meddle in.

  35. On at least three occasions, the ability of my car (V6 2001 Accord) to get from 60 to 90mph in a hurry has prevented me from being involved in a major accident. High-end acceleration is a safety feature.

  36. Speeding isn’t the problem. Or at least, excessive speed isn’t the only problem. 41,000 people died last year on US highways and that is way too much. Highway safety is much more than just enforcing a speed limit.

  37. John – people in Michigan were doing 75 to 80 back when the speed limit was 55. Except when I-696 finally opened after 25+ years of construction, and the tourists (yes: highway tourists) were all going 25.

    Tumbleweed – it’s not “evolution in action” when you get killed by somebody else’s reckless driving. But if it makes you feel safer to spit on other people’s tragedies, don’t let me stop you.

  38. For those of you say “weed them out” you miss the point. In some cases speeders weed OTHER people out.

    For the ‘government regulation is bad’ crowd – really? 100% of the time? So, the regulation that means kids PJs can’t be flammable are bad? Regulations against, oh, murder are bad? As with most things, this is not black and white.

    Of course doctors tend to advocate solutions that prevent the broken and dead bodies they see night after night – I’d be a bit worried if they didn’t want to reduce the number of dead and dying. Doesn’t mean they’re right, but in this case the NYT article author raises an interesting point – why DO we have cars that can go far faster than any speed limit when speeding both wastes fuel and kills people?

    I agree with John that people would keep their old cars and buy used for as long as possible if this was ever adopted . But you have to admit that it’s an odd thing to have cars capable of going 120mph when there’s no conceivable reason to do so on public roads and the speed limit’s never been even close to that.

  39. mythago – sure it is. If you’re not a defensive driver, you’re more likely to be killed by someone else. It’s rather like being an animal in the wild. You’re not the one shooting yourself with the gun, but if you blend into the scenery better than the next animal, or you simply leave when the smelly, loud humans come around, you’re more likely to survive.

    FYI – I see no evolutionary value in spitting on other people’s tragedies, however you may like to misconstrue other people’s comments. That’s mostly just for my own entertainment.

  40. It would be a lot easier to just reduce the speed limits 5 to 10 mph.

    I really can’t see any reason for more than 40mph on surface streets with intersections and with driveways for businesses and residences. If there’s nothing out there, 45 is okay. Where access is limited, higher limits are fine. Just, don’t raise it every time you discover that people are driving over the limit, because that jsut makes it worse. (Really, there are places with laws saying that you can raise the speed limit if a large percentage of drivers are over it all the time.)

  41. Classic problem rehashed.
    Government regulation of things that can allow you to hurt yourself or others. Alcohol, Drugs, Cars are all examples.

    The government should (IMO) not prevent a person from killing themselves by accident or stupidity. But the government has a responsibility to enact laws that discourage someone from doing something accidental or stupid that could kill you.

    For Alcohol we had prohibition, but decided that it was too unpopular or maybe that we (tongue in cheek) could use alcohol responsibly. Or maybe that it was just way too profitable to not legalize.

    Drugs either aren’t as popular or profitable as alcohol. Or maybe drugs are too profitable if they are only synthetic.

    Cars and speed. Same problem. The government just recognizes that attempting to legislate speed would be antithetical to the American car-crazed culture not to mention very un-popular with car manufacturers other than folks like http://getkurrent.com/

    If gas prices continue to soar then it’s not going to be a problem.

  42. The nice thing about speeders in Alaska is the road kill. We have moose. Many organizations are on the state “RoadKill List”. When someone hits a moose on the road 3/4 of it is still harvestable (the car and driver may not be though). Therefore at least someone gets to some advantage out of the high rates of speed.
    :)

  43. I think a heads up display projecting the current fuel efficiency would be a great way to get people to slow down (and save fuel). If you can immediately see the impact on your fuel efficiency (and thus your pocketbook), I bet that would slow a lot of people down voluntarily.

    It’s kind of like those manufacturers who put a graphic of a fly on the urinal in a location designed to minimize splashing. :)

  44. PJ: You’re misapprehending the causal nature of speed limits. Raising the speed limits won’t make people driver faster. What you’re perceiving is the fact that people are allowed by law now to drive the speed that is comfortable given the conditions of the roadway.

    I’m sure you agree that *lowering* the speed limit won’t make people drive slower, so why do you think the opposite occurs? Yes, yes, I know there are always people who will exceed the speed limit, but that’s not the point. If you design and build a road that can accept 55 mph traffic and then sign it 35, is it really a surprise when the drivers go 55?

  45. “SPEEDING is the cause of 30 percent of all traffic deaths in the United States — about 13,000 people a year.”

    I’d love to know the source of that figure. I don’t know that its wrong, but it basically contradicts some interesting research that states that excess speed is the primary cause of only 6% of RTAs in the UK, and a contributory factor in only a few more. Now this is talking about deaths, not accidents, and I’ll grant that speed is more likely to be present in a fatal accident, but as the primary cause…? Not sure.

    Anyway, his entire thesis is irrelevant anyway, because AIUI the vast majority of road traffic fatalities occur on urban roads where the speed limit is lower than the national maximum speed limit, so even with limited vehicles people would still be able to speed on these roads, in most cases as much as they do today, hence there would be little impact on actual fatalities from making the change he suggests.

    Nice theory, shame it wouldn’t work.

    So, do you really want to reduce traffic accident fatalities? Education programs to persuade more people to wear safety belts have been shown time & time again to be the best way of achieving this.

  46. Technology will solve this one, and it’ll be private sector that does it. This neatly avoids the bill-of-rights issues, since it is a private company and a private individual entering a contract, rather that having government lay down a fiat and forcing compliance on pain of massive fines and/or jail terms. If the Insurance companies offer massive ‘safe driver’ discounts to people who consent to have a GPS device installed in their cars for the express purpose of proving they’re a safe driver (defined by respecting speed law, following ROW, coming to a full stop at stop signs, etc), it could do quite a bit to provide incentive to obey speed limits.

    Clearly, this is predicated on a very accurate map of the roadways, speed limits, stop-signs and suchlike, but if the insurance companies as a whole decide to pursue this sort of system, the State departments of transportation will easily come on board to provide this information for the greater good. Tie it in to semaphore systems in major cities and it could even detect red-light violations such as turning right against a posted no-right-turn-on-red sign, turning left at all at a red, that sort of thing. It won’t be the State Patrol issuing you a citation for exceeding the speed-limit by X MPH at mile-marker ABC, it’ll be StateFarm charging you an extra $50/mo for exceeding posted speed-limits more than 10% of the time, but less than 20%.

    This is a system that won’t kill the US car makers, but the Insurance companies offering it will have to provide some serious discounts from plans that don’t offer that sort of tracking plan. This way people who like being lead-footed drivers can pay the extra 30/50/70% for their insurance if they so wish. If there is any significant level of uptake among the car-driving public, this will slow down speeds to a degree that the lead-feet out there will stick out from the pack more than they already do. And sticking out from the pack is what gets you pulled over.

  47. John Shea @43 had a very good point. Just moving quickly has no bearing on most of the things that cause accidents or cause them to be severe – most modern cars are perfectly stable and maneuverable at 55, 65, 75, 85, 95 miles an hour or more. What kills people is changes and differential – of speed, of direction, sometimes of the road surface or surroundings.

    The US (at least the parts in west and middle I’ve driven in) has a pretty bad record on “slow drivers keep right”, which is the most poorly implemented of the defensive driving / safe driving techniques necessary for safe highways. IF all the slow drivers keep right THEN there is little weaving in and out of traffic – because it’s not possible (lanes full, nowhere to go) or not necessary (left lane used for passing only, and it’s open for high speed passers).

    Actual reaction times and buffers make a big difference, too…

    The US also has a pretty bad record on safe following distance. I performance drive, and I left foot brake so my reaction time on braking is usually actually under 0.25 sec to 50% pedal. I am appalled by how bad the average SUV is on following distance and how bad most cars are.

    All the eating and putting on makeup and watching DVDs while driving are much riskier than driving 75 in a 65 zone. It’s bad enough that I sometimes talk on the cellphone, but I have years of experience using amateur radios in the car and radios in boats and planes. I slow down and pull over a lane and leave more following distance when I get or make a call. Most people tragically and horrifically speed up a bit and follow closer, which is entirely the wrong thing to do…

  48. Corwin @57 -

    I would be OK with an insurance company that charged extra for driving faster.

    I would prefer an insurance company that charged extra for not leaving proper following distance and not signalling for lane changes (both detectable with a black box with GPS and a bit of LIDAR or RADAR near the front bumper).

    I’d prefer to add “driving slow in fast lane” and “talking on cellphone while driving” to that but those are harder to measure, the first as it’s traffic context dependent and the second as it would require video or audio “cockpit recording” on the black box and I don’t know if anyone would go for that these days.

  49. I lived through the 50′s, 60′s etc. I’ve seen speed limits run from next to unenforced to over-enforced (speed traps). The highway speed limits have run from 45mph to 75mph. Yes, speed kills, but stupidity – of which there is an overabundance – kills far more.

    A retired State Police officer in New York taught me that the safest speed is the average speed of traffic. If you’re passing everyone, you’re going too fast. If everyone passes you, you’re too slow. Common sense?

    In short, lowering speed limits probably does lower accidents, but sane driver education – which should be required by law in every state – is the real answer.

    Oh hell, when did common sense ever enter into the equation.

    Rick York

  50. “Anyway, his entire thesis is irrelevant anyway”

    Euch. I really wrote that. Sorry to everyone who had to read it. :(

  51. There is also the small matter that building a car that is always functioning at the top end of its capability at highway speed is probably a car that is working too hard.

    If you’re really worried about safety worry about the idiots trying to drive and talk on the phone at the same time.

  52. Scalzi @18: “whatever the speed limit is, people are generally traveling five to ten miles per hour faster than it, in my experience. Thus in Ohio, where the speed limit on the freeway is 65, people are going 70 to 75; in Michigan, where it’s 70, I see people doing 75 to 80.”

    You know, they’re probably a lot closer to the limit than you (and they) think they are. Most (if not all) modern cars have their speedometers set by the factory to read about 5-10% faster than the car is actually travelling. I believe that this is because it’s a legal requirement for them not to ever read slower, but whatever the reason, you’re probably not going as fast as you think you are. Try timing yourself between mile markers on a long straight road with cruise control on, set at 60mph. You should (obviously) pass one per minute. You’ll find it’s more like 63-65 seconds. Or check yourself with a GPS device that’ll give you a speed readout.

  53. Several years ago, a buddy of mine said that the company he drove for (UPS I think) stated that the outside lane of a freeway was 10X safer than the inner lanes. He said that an outside lane gives the driver an “out” when coming up on an accident. I now generally try to do that. Set the cruise control on the speed limit and enjoy the ride. But remember, cruise control can be deadly on a rain slick road!

  54. GWH@59 :

    They do have a way of charging extra for that. Part of it is based on actuarial tables that indicate under 25, single males are the most likely to speed and get in accidents, and therefore charge more to insure them. The insurance companies all have a policy that if you get a citation for a traffic violation, your rates go up.

    Shane@27: “The death rate in my state, New South Wales, is at a a 60 year low. More people were killed on the roads in the 1940s than now.”

    Any guesses why?
    Most accidents back then were not as survivable back then. Seat belts were not standard features, nor were impact absorbing materials. Steering wheels were attached to steel pipes connected to the axle assembly–handy for impalement. No padding on the dashboards, but lots of switches and knobs to add to your injuries as you were thrown around in the cab being mangled in a demonstration of inertia and centrifugal force on soft tissues.

    Or was it that all the bad drivers were killed off in Mad Max II?

    As far as the topic is concerned: well the auto makers won’t go out of business as long as there is plenty of demand for 500 HP Mustangs and mega-sized Hummers, even with factory installed speed governors. My guess is that the same thing that happened to catylitic converters in the ’80s. Garage owners will find a way to bypass them for cash-paying customers

  55. I think if american auto makers were able to produce a car that got 60 MPG but had a top speed of only 80-85 MPH they would sell a shitload of cars -

  56. Jake Frievald @10: I can back you up, at least anecdotally – my granddad said the same thing about the early days of the NJ Turnpike, that the ticket-taker at the exit would check the time-stamp on the ticket, compare it to the current time, and write you a ticket right there if your average speed was greater than the speed limit.

    Clearly it didn’t go over well.

    I like to go fast. It’s one of the few illegal things that seems to be rooted in my personality core. Maybe it comes from my video gaming, maybe from my adolescent desire to be a fighter pilot and my admiration of Chuck Yeager and the astronauts. I own an old muscle car with a massive V8, and a motorcycle with a speedometer that goes to 180mph, which I’m told by riders I consider reliable can be buried without difficulty, though I’ve never tried it; I’ve hit 140 with it though, and there was plenty of room left on the tach. And man, that is really, really fast.

    So of course I wouldn’t be too excited about mandatory speed governors. There was one on my rental truck when I moved to California, and it was maddening to have the damn thing top out at 68mph when the truck in front of me on a 2-lane highway was doing 67.5. ARGH. That memory will last me a lifetime.

    Anyway, so I agree that American car manufacturers would go under almost instantly – but not necessarily because of the speed problem. I think it would be more because they simply wouldn’t be able to adapt to the new market conditions fast enough. That’s what’s killing them right now as we speak, this would just accelerate it.

    Weirdly, I’ve been able to document that my motorcycle gets better mileage at 90mph on the freeway than at 65mph. Bizarre.

  57. Dave Hall @66

    The system I proposed would provide an incentive for under 25 unmarried males to prove they beat the statistics for stupid driving, and earn a (very serious) break in insurance rate. In fact, it may very well be the teen-driver market that this system is introduced into, and parents who provide the pressure to drive sanely. There are already GPS systems on the market now to provide parents a way to track where their teen driver’s car is at all times, this is a natural extension of that kind of thing.

    Part of the coverage of the high price of gas is repetitive quoting of, “70% of drivers think they drive better than average,” or whatever the actual number is (could be 80%). So a majority of people already think they drive safer than the idjit in the next lane, and a tracking system provides a way to prove the actuarial tables wrong. This kind of thing appeals to Americans, especially the unmarried male recent college graduate trying to pay for a car in an inner-city core (i.e. high crime) and facing a $2000/year insurance bill while dealing with .edu loans.

  58. I’ll bet he’ll really love the produce that spends an extra ten hours in diesel exhaust en route to his local grocer under his plan. I’m guessing he lives in a city and doesn’t actually drive anywhere; he takes a cab or rides the subway.

  59. Corwin@69 I see. What I was suggesting is the insurance companies have a system in place. It would only take some minor adjustments to enforce higher or lower bills. As the parent of under 25, single, twins (one boy one girl) I am aware of the actuarial differences. Any way to promote safety _and_ save some bucks sounds good to me.

  60. How many of those speed related deaths ocured on a surface street at a speed under 55 MPH? You can’t legislate death away. You also can’t legislate aganst stupidity.
    I don’t think this would put American auto makers out of buisness because it would have to cover all imports as well.
    While we are on the subject of car laws that will never happen, here’s my idea. No car license until you are 21. Motorcycle licenses with NO passengers for those under 21. Will some kids die? Yes. But it won’t be the usual 3 or 4 kids killed in a single vehicle wreck caused by wrekless driving/alcohol/drugs that happen far too often. As a bonus those that make it to 21 will have learned defensive driving. Speaking from experience I can say that nothing teaches defensive driving like having your ass in the wind while surrounded by morons in two ton cycle crushers.

  61. It’s rather like being an animal in the wild.

    No, it’s not at all like being an animal in the wild. Why is it that the people who get the most lulz out of others’ misfortune, and their own misplaced belief in their personal superiority, cling so tenaciously to half-assed Wild Kingdom analogies?

    When a drunk driver blows through a red light at 70 mph and rams into the side of your car, Nature did not weed you out for your unfit driving. When a drunk teenager who can’t handle a car well at normal speeds jumps the median and gets into a head-on collision with you, it’s not your subpar defensive driving skills that are at fault.

  62. This proposal is a typical example of America-centrism, because other countries have different (usually higher) speed limits than the US or – like my own – no general speed limit at all. Forcing US car manufacturers to produce cars that cannot exceed the (comparatively low) US speed limit would essentially kill off exports, because very few car buyers in other countries would be willing to buy cars that cannot go faster than 65 mph. I certainly wouldn’t buy such a car and I am not a speeder and never drive the 190 km/h that my car can do (except once, on a quiet stretch of highway, to test how fast it could go). And building cars in two versions, a speed limited one for the US and an unlimited one for exports, would impose unnecessary extra costs on the manufacturers. Either way, such a law would hurt US car manufacturers.

    Incidentally, whenever I was driving in the US, I always felt as if I was the only person who was actually adhering to the speed limit, because I didn’t want to get into any trouble with the police in a foreign country.

  63. This article… it is really, really bad.

    First of all, if prohibiting the capability of speeding is a “simple” solution to the deaths caused by velocity, why isn’t banning alcohol a simple solution to the deaths caused by drunk driving? I’d hazard to guess there are a plethora of unintended consequences to such an action. Simple this proposal is not going to be.

    Secondly, I drove my car at well over 100 MPH recently in the state of Georgia (the one in America) and it was in no way, shape or form illegal. OK, Ok… the cams I’m running might not quite meet the letter of the rules regarding my class. But I don’t think that’s relevant. Fact is, there are not only legal ways to surpass 75 MPH but there are practical reasons – natural disasters, medical emergencies, accident avoidance – that it would be possibly unwise to limit vehicles to a set speed.

    Oh, and he can’t think of any really real precedent… ever, to some cad committing the preposterous act of producing potentially law-breaking devices? What, like, oh I don’t know… GUNS! Crikey man, I can go on a felonious rampage with a pointy stick if I try really hard. And I can cause some real freakin’ havoc with an automobile at speeds fit for a school-zone.

    Yes we regulate things. We even regulate cars. Airbags for instance, as the man points out later. Did nobody inform this guy about the issues with airbags you couldn’t deactivate? Those thrice-damned unintended consequences. Airbags, turn-signals and seat belts (and, really, brakes ) are all items we can choose to use or not.

    And, and… sheering force of wind? In no way, no how, not in any variant spelling does that make any sense whatsoever. I mean, it’s obvious what this guy means. But that word. It does not mean what he thinks it means.

    Yowsa, that’s just the first two paragraphs! I give up. I’m going to go street race. Just for spite.

  64. I drive the limit but certainly prefer to go 70 when the limit is 70 than 55 or 60 if that’s the limit. Also what about passing? On a two-lane highway I am certainly not going to pass if I can only accelerate to 5 MPH faster than the person I want to pass.

    This idea has been floated around before and the bottom line is, no matter what you do, until cars are able to drive themselves with drive by wire or GPS guidance or other perfect avoidance system, people will die while in a car.

    People will also die flying in a plane, riding on a train, walking across the street, falling off ladders etc.

    Get over it.

  65. Eventually, were’ just going to run out of oil, and making electric cars that run as fast as gas cars is just not likely, and being forced to invest in mass transit options.

    Until then, I figure stupid drivers going at speeds they shouldn’t be in bad conditions will be menaces on the roads, and kill both themselves and innocent bystanders. It’s a price we pay for having cars. Clearly, most of America thinks it’s an acceptable price, but we do accept some regulation. What regulation we accept is arbitrary when you compare it to the suggestion in the article. Rejecting it is rejecting a limit on your “freedom” when you’ve already accepted plenty of others.

    When it comes down to it, many (I’m not going to say most, but I’d lean that way. I just don’t have data) drivers just want to go fast because of some power fantasy that accelerating and driving faster the other people gives them. If you threaten to take that away, they’ll squawk no matter how much damage would be prevented.

    Me? I take the trains. NYC is good for that.

  66. “I can break the law with my car. I can break the law with my computer. If I’m creative enough, I can probably break the law with just about everything I own.”

    Josh Kid @26

    Couldn’t agree more. Come to that, computers probably account for more broken laws in the US than guns do. Well, maybe not – but if not this year, then soon.

    It comes back to a simple, single fact: Banning things does not alter human behaviour. Banning guns and knives has not helped the UK’s violent crime one iota. Banning alcohol didn’t help the US during Prohibition. The War on Some Drugs is hugely debatable.

    Punishing actions – and only actions which are actively antisocial – is what makes sense. Sadly, human beans don’t seem much up on sensible behaviour. There orta be a law…. ;)

  67. Speeding-Related Traffic Fatalities (2005)

    fatalities, total: 43,443

    Speeding-related fatalities by road type and speed limit:
    Total: 13,113

    Interstate
    Over 55 mph: 1,384
    At or under 55 mph: 342

    Noninterstate
    55 mph: 3,462
    (rest are non-interstate, 50mph or below).

    These are the speed limits, and not the speed of the cars themselves. But still. He’s clearly inflating the size of the problem – 13,000 is the wrong number; the 3 above are 5188 added up, and even that is going to be an overestimate of the lives affected.

    Plus, the less dumb a speed limit is, the less of a speed difference among cars there’s going to be. And the difference is the biggest accident factor. When I was in Arizona on a trip recently, I noticed the speed limits were higher than NJ/PA for similar roads, but people weren’t really going faster individually. We were a lot closer to each other in terms of speed, though. That’s mostly anecdotal, of course, I’d be interested if there’s a study on that.

  68. I personally have taken to driving in the 55-60 range even in 65 mph zones, to improve my fuel efficiency. Of course, I stick to the right lane like a magnet.

    Unsurprisingly, I usually attract a trail of cars that have come up behind me and not passed. Surprisingly, this tail persists even when there is no traffic preventing them from passing me.

    Either they just zoned out, in which case it’s good that I’m getting them to drive more consistently, or I gave them the excuse they were looking for to drive more economically. I haven’t had the opportunity to ask.

  69. Something that hasn’t been mentioned yet: There’s another problem with mandated limiters if they’re at a speed at which people are likely to be driving (which is about what a 75MPH limiter will be, on the 70MPH-speed-limit stretch of I-5 I was driving on a couple of days ago). These things are not going to be perfect, simply because no mechanical device is perfect, and also because people change their tires and that sort of thing. So you don’t get a group of cars driving 75MPH. You get cars doing 73MPH, and cars doing 77MPH, and there’s no way for the cars doing 73MPH to speed up a little bit to get around a slow truck more quickly to let the other people past, or any of the other adjustments that smooth out traffic flow when people can all go the same speed.

    I also am darkly reminded of the cruise control in my car, which has a very slight mechanical problem such that when I use it the car accelerates quickly, nearly shuts off, accelerates quickly, nearly shuts off, and so on, thereby being completely unsafe to drive. It’s clear that this is actually a very minor problem in its cause, and it’s also very minor in its results in that I can simply not use the cruise control, but if the same control system were mandatory it would be an undriveable car, and tracking this down would be one of those “throw lots of money at the local mechanic” sorts of things.

  70. “Did nobody inform this guy about the issues with airbags you couldn’t deactivate?”

    I have a niece who is roughly 4’9″. She’s 21. I think that airbags may pose a hazard to her as a passenger. (The driver’s side one is smaller and less explosive.) Yeah, unintended consequences for sure.

    When my kid(s) turn 14 or thereabouts, I will start hammering home my theory of safe driving— plenty of following distance gives you time to react, and minimize your danger by avoiding risk situations. You know, don’t change lanes when you don’t have to, pay attention to what other drivers are doing, and learn to read the cues. Most drivers telegraph what they’re going to do, so you can spot an impatient merger who won’t use indicator lights.

    I’ll also make sure that when I use the phrase “In a hurry to get dead,” I don’t mutter it. Let them know as they’re growing up that there is nothing so dangerous as rushing on the road.

    As my credentials I can state that in fifteen years of driving I’ve been in one accident, and that one was the fault of the hit-and-runner who ignored a stop sign. (And he was caught, too!) The testament to modern engineering is that the car was totaled (bumper through the radiator + frame damage at around 15 MPH— I *did* brake) and I didn’t even bump my nose. So I think I have a say as to safety, and the truth is this:

    If somebody’s not paying attention, a lower speed won’t keep him from an accident.

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