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Fast Money

There seems to be a consensus that the speed laws were made to be broken.


In the meantime, many state and local employees are being terminated. Park services are being curtailed. Governors are discussing cuts in education funding and turning prisoners loose at early dates. The money is not flowing into the state coffers as fluently as before. So services are on the chopping block everywhere.

Well, here’s a partial solution to the problem. This is where the savings in lives come in. Now is an opportune time to go after those who speed. There’s a gold mine available to the states in traffic fines. It would all be for a good purpose, and it’s long overdue.

Try driving the speed limit on the interstate system. Just engage the car in the cruise-control position and keep it there. You’re in for a rude awakening.

Cars and trucks constantly pass. It seems drivers are of the opinion that going 10 or more miles over the posted speed limit is acceptable. Even cops zip past at breakneck speeds. Try entering an Interstate. As you get onto the highway, engage the cruise control. Make an effort to edge to the left. Merging into oncoming traffic can be a nerve-racking experience. As you are going the legal limit, someone invariably keeps you from easily getting into traffic. They zoom up just fast enough to make your entrance treacherous.

When you are on the interstate and people are driving ahead of you at less than the speed limit, passing them can be difficult. If other motorists accelerate while you are in the passing lane, you can either wait for them to clear some space for you to get back into the slow lane, or speed up to get around them. By this time there’s a string of vehicles behind you. The impatient motorists are tailgating you, and may even flash their lights to encourage you to put the pedal to the floorboard.

There seems to be a consensus that the speed laws were made to be broken. Indeed, the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission contributes to this predilection. That agency does not consider a traffic death as speed-related unless the speed was 10 or more miles faster than posted limit. That’s wrong. The laws were established for safety reasons. It is time to get serious about them.

The year 2002 saw 42,815 traffic fatalities in the United States according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Those are mostly people who would have lived to see 2003 were it not for traffic crashes. Very few of us appear to be concerned about that, but people sure work themselves into a tizzy over a few people dying of West Nile Virus, or SARS, or whatever disease or accidental cause of death is getting its current 15 minutes of fame. Sure, those things deserve some attention, but it’s time to readjust priorities.

It’s great that serious efforts are concentrating on removing drunken drivers from the roadways. It’s nice to see the motoring public being educated as to the benefits of seat-belt usage. It’s wonderful to see cars being built much safer than they were a few years back.

The speed factor related to traffic deaths continues to go largely ignored, though. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, about 30 percent of traffic deaths are attributable to speed. That’s where the rough estimate of 12,000 traffic deaths attributable to speed comes in. Strict enforcement of the speed limits would unquestionably go a long way towards curbing traffic deaths, and the fines collected would certainly help somewhat in alleviating the problems of our state treasuries.

Oh yeah, the governor who starts such a crackdown is going to take a lot of heat. It might even make him or her a one-term elected official. A one-termer who embarked upon such a crusade would not be such a bad thing. S

James Banzer has worked in broadcast news and now writes about his observations of the world around us. He lives in Louisville, Ky. His e-mail address is jamesbanzer@yahoo.com.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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