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7/11/2017
Federal Stats Overstate Role Of Speeding In Fatal Crashes
US Transportation Department figures overstate the role of speeding in fatal accidents by a factor of four.

Traffic Safety Facts cover
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last week released the agency's latest analysis of speeding-related traffic fatalities in the United States. While the document concludes that speeding was a factor in 27 percent of fatal traffic collisions, a closer look at the underlying data show that only one-fourth of these "speeders" were actually exceeding the posted limit.

The US Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) describes the actions of 48,613 drivers who were involved in 32,166 fatal crashes in 2015. NHTSA took the database and used the broadest possible definition of "speeding" to arrive at the 27 percent figure.

"NHTSA considers a crash to be speeding-related if any driver in the crash was charged with a speeding-related offense or if a police officer indicated that racing, driving too fast for conditions, or exceeding the posted speed limit was a contributing factor in the crash," the report explains.

Ultimately, the numbers come from the judgment of an investigating officer at the scene of the crash. The officer fills out a form asking him whether a driver involved in the incident exceeded the posted speed limit, or whether he was under the limit but in excess of the speed prudent for the weather and road conditions.

Because the detailed NHTSA report omitted the breakdown for each of these factors, we obtained the information directly from the FARS database. It turns out that only 82 individual drivers were identified as "racing" prior to a fatal crash in 2015, accounting for 0.2 percent of incidents. Only 102 speeding tickets were issued to surviving drivers, compared to 6864 tickets for non-speeding offenses. Overall, 3469 drivers were found to be exceeding the posted speed limit, or 7 percent (view chart).

Federal agencies include driving below the posted speed limit within the definition of "speeding" to boost the profile of the issue. Speeding tickets are a multi-billion business for state governments, municipalities and the insurance industry. Virginia, for instance, depends on $238 million in annual ticket revenue. So NHTSA and other federal transportation agencies focus almost exclusively on using grant money to fund state-level police efforts to encourage local ticketing efforts.

The Mississippi Office of Highway Safety, for instance, explicitly sets quotas in its 2018 planning documents. The state's goal is to "increase the number of speeding citations issued during grant funded enforcement activities by ten percent from five year average (2011-2015) of 23,433 to an increased goal of 25,777 by the end of fiscal year 2017." Quotas are also set for seatbelt tickets and drunk driving arrests (PDF Fileview quota document in a 500k PDF).

Statistics from the UK Department for Transport mirror the US figures, finding exceeding the posted limit accounted for 8 percent of fatal accidents and three percent of non-fatal accidents.

A copy of the NHTSA report is available in an 800k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Traffic Safety Facts - Speeding (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 7/6/2017)



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