1/17/2019ANALYSIS: Traffic Ticket Industry Calls For Lower Speed Limits
Opinion/Analysis: Report by organization of traffic ticket writing officials calls for widespread reduction in speed limits.
The unrest in France symbolized by the Yellow Vest movement was triggered at least in part by the lowering of speed limits on roads throughout the country. In the United States, the traffic ticket industry has failed to draw any lesson from the French experience. On Tuesday, the association of state highway officials who collect and spend revenue from traffic tickets issued a report calling for a widespread reduction of posted speed limits in the name of Vision Zero.
"If we want to get to zero deaths on our roads, we need to address speeding on a much deeper and more comprehensive level than we have been," Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) executive director Jonathan Adkins said in his statement announcing the report. "This clear and present danger on our roadways makes it imperative to devote additional resources toward getting drivers to slow down in order to save lives."
The report claims that highway deaths had been on the decline from 2005 until 2015 when the trend "reversed," a change the report attributes to speeding. This claim suffers from two fundamental flaws. First, the raw number of fatalities dropped significantly in 2008 because the number of miles driven nationwide plunged by 54 billion at the height of the Great Recession. Fatalities rose along with the extra 143 billion miles being driven in 2016 compared to 2007. The available latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that, in the first half of 2018, the fatality rate -- the measure that takes traffic volume into account -- was 1.08 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. In 2008, the rate was 1.23.
The second example of sleight of hand is GHSA's use of "speeding related" accidents in the report. This term, used by federal and state officials, conflates two different types of accidents. Those caused by people driving below the speed limit, but faster than is safe for the conditions, and accidents caused by those actually exceeding the posted limit. Federal statistics show about 7 percent of accidents were caused by drivers who exceeded the posted speed limit (view report). Driver distraction is a far more significant factor in fatal collisions. Statistics in the UK and at the individual state level back up these findings.
So GHSA counts people traveling slower than the speed limit to demand a reduction in the posted speed limit. GHSA's message today is indistinguishable from the traffic ticket industry's claims during the unsuccessful fight to save the 55 MPH national speed limit. The only difference is the message is now dressed in "Vision Zero" marketing language. The idea is that any public policy is acceptable as long as it contributes to bringing the number of traffic accidents to zero.
"Vision Zero efforts have been at the forefront of steps to curb speeding in cities, and GHSA hopes to see this concept and its principles spread to more suburban and rural jurisdictions across the country," the GHSA statement explained.
GHSA has a direct financial interest in lowering speed limits. The organization's membership roster includes the National Coalition for Safer Roads, which is a front group wholly controlled by the photo radar firm American Traffic Solutions (now Verra Mobility). Other members include representatives from the insurance industry such as AAA, Allstate, State Farm and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. These companies profit from the issuance of speeding tickets as license points raise the annual automobile insurance premiums of ticket recipients.
A copy of the group's report is available in a 1mb PDF file at the source link below.