Editorial: Unsafe at Any Speed?

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
editorial unsafe at any speed

I’ll never forget my first ride in a BMW. I remember the excitement, anticipating a high speed run in an [echt] autobahn-tuned automobile. The driver never broke Nixon’s double nickel. In fact, he stayed in the right lane for the entire trip. Flash forward to two hours ago, G-forcing through the S-curves into Providence. In the middle of the second bend, a Nissan GT-R zipped by my minivan like it was standing still. Hakuna matata. What a wonderful phrase. Hakuna matata. Ain’t no passing craze. The GT-R driver was there. In the moment. In control. Safe?

I know: all things being equal, the higher the differential between vehicle speeds, the greater chance of a collision or loss of control leading to an accident. Well, yes, all things are NEVER equal. Driving safety depends on a huge number of variables: vehicle type and condition; road construction, condition, width, and camber; weather (as it affects grip and visibility); traffic; driver age, experience, sobriety, skill, general psychological makeup and specific mental state. And so on, including dumb luck.

To say that a speeding GT-R is inherently dangerous is both true and relative. Yes, the mustachioed enthusiast caning the über-Nissan would have been less of a danger to himself and those around him if he’d observed the speed limit. But the question must be asked: safer than what? A caffeine-deprived father in his minivan fighting over the radio with his 11-year-old step-daughter while his five-year-old demands that he retrieve her missing crayon? The kid stunting and flossing in a beat-up Buick Century in the Italian astronaut driving position? What?

I’m not trying to defend a Baruthian speeder with moral relativism. The GT-R driver was breaking a law designed by society for society; he has no moral foundation upon which to base his behavior. Besides, blind eye be damned; he was weaving through traffic at warp speed. Guilty as charged. In terms of the whole actions > consequences deal, I’m with Baretta: “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” And that’s from someone who’s done the time, and slowed right down.

Although not necessarily to avoid legal sanction (aging, testosterone levels, children . . . connect the dots). Be that as it is, here’s the bottom line: anti-speeding absolutism is feel-good nonsense. It does nothing to make our roads safer.

Anyone who reads this site knows (if not acknowledges) that there are speeders and there are speeders. There is speeding and there is speeding. Once upon a time, police officers made the distinction between “simple” speeding and dangerous driving. These days, radar technology and an ATM-based law enforcement philosophy has removed informed discretion and eliminated simple common sense.

The fact that we’re debating speeding—rather than road safety—shows how far we’ve strayed from cause and effect. Hyper-speeding is rare and therefore relatively unimportant. Inattention due to fatigue accounts for far more accidents than high-speed hooliganism.

Again, I’m not defending adrenalin junkies who use public roads as a private playground. Not cool. Not safe. Not legal. Call me a hypocrite, but I consider balls-out driving four-wheeled cocaine. I tried it. I liked it. I learned the drug’s downside the hard way. I would NEVER do it again. I would NEVER advocate its use. I would NEVER want ANY of my children to even THINK about trying it.

I’m not alone in my hypocrisy. To those who would string up fast drivers in fast cars without a moment’s hesitation, I say mote. Beam. Eye. Remove. Proceed. The vast majority of American drivers routinely break the speed limit. The same majority that considers themselves safe drivers. Well consider this . . .

If drowsy drivers cause or experience more accidents than speeders, who’s a larger menace: the guy blasting along at twenty or thirty or more miles per hour above the speed limit, focusing his mind on the illegal task at hand, or the driver who thinks he’s safe because he’s driving at the speed limit and so fails to engage mentally in his vehicular progress?

Of course, the safest driver is the one who’s driving at the speed limit who IS mentally engaged in the act of driving. I’m guessing that most of the commentators who excoriated Jack Baruth’s guide to street speeding answer to that description.

In an ideal world, everyone would be like you. You’d never share the road with our speed-crazed, morally lax editorialist/reviewer. In the same ideal world, there wouldn’t be any drunk drivers or soccer moms in SUVs yakking on their cell phones as they blow through suburban stop signs.

Here in the real world, there’s a sliding scale of dangerous “others.” Next time you get in your car, ignore the speedo (for a moment) and check your look in the mirror. Forget about “them” and say hello to the most dangerous driver of all.

[NB: This is not an article about TTAC’s editorial stance or style. Click here for a post on that topic. All comments that raise meta-points about the site will be deleted.]

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  • DearS DearS on May 26, 2009

    NIKY TAMAYO.... I don't always want to drive in poorer nations with loose traffic rules. Sometimes its hard to know what to expect, and sometimes its surprising how others have better common sense in some situations than I taught was well common sense. I don't think poorer nations have it all figured out, far from it, but they also do have somethings figured out, and that is that freedom makes for happy people. And happy people wanna live to drive another day.

  • Iamwho2k Iamwho2k on May 27, 2009
    Speed kills. Even 30 mph head on can be fatal. That’s why I never exceed 20 mph. Even on the interstate. Also, when coming up to a green traffic light I slow down, so that when it turns red I can drive through it at a safe 10 mph. Where's the sarcasm alert? If, however, you are serious, the bus was meant for people like you. Seriously. I'll even buy the monthly pass for you. Speed limits are totally arbitrary. The freeways in HNL used to have a 70-mph limit, but then the EPIC FAIL known as the double-nickel was applied and ever since the Hawaii DOT has kept its head in the sand. Some years back the governor even tried to get the DOT to wake up and smell the coffee, but failed.

  • Fred Remember when radios were an option? Do you know you can use your phone to listen to any radio station in the world? This is just a whole waste of time.
  • Pig_Iron ASTC 3.0 AM radio was successfully demonstrated at CES. It is a common standard shared with terrestrial television, so the audio equipment is commonized for broadcasters. And no royalty fees to pay, unlike HDRadio which has been a less than stellar success. 📻
  • Art Vandelay Crimes that are punished with fines encourage abuse by those enforcing them. If it is truly dangerous to the public, maybe jail or give the offenders community service. People’s time tends to be very valuable to them and a weeks lost work would certainly make a high earner think twice. If it isn’t a big danger why are police enforcing it (outside of raising money of course). Combine it with a points system. When your points are gone you do a week imitating Cool Hand Luke.
  • Cha65697928 High earners should pay less for tickets because they provide the tax revenue that funds the police. 2-3 free speeding tix per year should be fair.
  • Art Vandelay So the likely way to determine one’s income would be via the tax return. You guys are going to be real disappointed when some of the richest folks pay no speeding fine the same way they minimize their taxes
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