Speed Limits: It’s The Law, But Is It A Good Law?

The New York City Council is mulling over legislation to lower the speed limit to 25 miles per hour within certain communities, according to a new report from the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

In 2011 data released by the federal government, the number one ranked (21 percent) driving behavior cited in fatal automobile and motorcycle accidents nationwide was “driving too fast for conditions, or in excess of posted speed limit.” Driving under the “influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication” was the second-place (14 percent) behavior.

In comments reported by the New York Times, Christine C. Quinn, City Council speaker, said she hoped to pass a bill in the weeks ahead that would lower the current speed limit of 30 miles per hour on a number of New York streets.

“We are actively working on that bill,” Quinn said in comments to reporters on Tuesday while referring to legislation sponsored by Councilman David G. Greenfield of Brooklyn. “Our goal is to pass it before the end of the year.”

“Pedestrians … stand to benefit from public policies which reduce the number of auto and motorcycle accidents,” added Dr. Robert Hartwig, president of the I.I.I. and an economist. “The federal government found that in 2012 pedestrian deaths accounted for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 3 percent of all people injured in traffic crashes.”

Representatives from the National Motorist Association (NMA) aren’t so sure that reducing speed limit is a good idea or even a safe one. According to the group’s website, “Detailed research by the US Department of Commerce has shown that the safest rate of travel is a few miles per hour above the average traffic speed. Enforced speed limits set below that average speed are speed traps, sacrificing safety for revenue.”

Speedtrap.org, the group’s website, was created to inform motorists of existing speed traps as they appear. Users can submit known speed traps to keep other motorists aware of heavily patrolled areas. There are currently submissions for all 50 states.

One other study has shown the NMA may be on to something:

In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that average highway speeds had increased to about 71 mph in 2009 from 65 mph two years earlier. Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune reports, traffic fatalities were on their way down.

From an insurance perspective, drivers must find a balance between being alert and being responsible.

Alertness is accomplished by being aware of the other cars on the road. It’s not about simply keeping your eyes on what you’re doing (or on the odometer), but also watching other drivers with the same level of vigilance.

Commercial truck drivers are taught to always be mindful of other cars when delivering a load to its destination. They have to exercise a form of hypervigilance because they’re operating a multi-ton vehicle that, in the wrong hands, could be a risk to the lives of everyone on the road in the immediate vicinity. It’s called defensive driving, and it’s something ordinary drivers can learn from. In fact, there are even classes available all over the US that teach drivers this much-needed skill.

As for responsibility, statistics may show traffic fatalities on their way down at higher speeds, but drivers in good standing should always try to obey the laws of the land. In addition to helping you avoid accidents with pedestrians or other cars, it can keep you from having traffic citations on your record, thus keeping overall costs down.

If you plan on traveling by car in the coming weeks, look at state-by-state breakdowns of the speed limits via the Governors Highway Safety Administration (GHSA).

Do you think speed limits do enough to protect motorists?

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