Speed kills… and I don’t just mean methamphetamines.  Speeding on our roads is linked to over 36,000 deaths each year in the U.S.  That’s almost 700 deaths a week… 100 a day.

If a hundred people die in a plane crash, we go nuts.  But if they die on our roads we see it as the cost of doing business.  As one blogger put it… “it’s high time to stop sacrificing safety on the altar of speed.”

Jim Cameron

Most of those 36,000 deaths are pedestrians or bicyclists.  But tens of thousands of those deaths involve the motorists in the cars tied to the “accidents” caused by distracted driving, drink or drugs or fatigue.

Federal statistics show if you’re hit by a vehicle going 20 mph you have a 90% chance of surviving.  If the car or truck is going at 40 miles an hour your survival chances are just 10%.  Speed kills.  So why are we all driving so fast?

Because we have so far to travel and want to save time getting there.

In Connecticut, our homes and our work are far apart because we can’t afford (or don’t chose) to live closer to our jobs.  And either because we don’t want to (or chose not to), we don’t take mass transit, preferring the cocoon of our cars.

Sure, seat belts in cars save lives… if you wear them.  And air bags and other tech in cars are helping us avoid many accidents. But the death toll keeps climbing, especially where cars occupy the same driving space as bikes and pedestrians.

Consider New York City.

In 1990 there were 700 traffic deaths in NYC.  But by 2018 that number had dropped to 202, thanks to “Vision Zero,” Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious, billion dollar plan to reduce road deaths to zero by 2024.  More bike lanes, sidewalks and a 25 mph city-wide speed limit have made a big difference.  But this year saw an uptick in deaths, most of them involving bicyclists driving on city streets lacking bike lanes.

In Connecticut we have nowhere near the same density of urban traffic fighting for space with folks on two feet or two wheels, but neither do we have sidewalks in many towns.  Or bike lanes.  But we do have speeders, scofflaws and insufficient enforcement.

When it’s not crawling bumper-to-bumper, try driving 55 mph on the Merritt, I-95 or I-84 and see what happens.  As a State Trooper once told me as we cruised along at about 75 mph with the flow of traffic, “I look for the driver likely to cause an accident” by weaving or not signaling lane changes.  Even those enforcing our laws admit they don’t or can’t keep up with motorists’ need for speed.

Even when the cops do look for speeders, legal radar detectors and laser-jammers help violators from getting caught.  Attempts to install red-light cameras in Connecticut have always failed due to a combination of Big Brother paranoia and fears of the safety tech being turned into an unending revenue spigot for towns and cities.

Weather conditions of course exacerbate the problem, especially with those driving the tanks we call SUVs who think they are immune to the laws of physics.

Bottom line:  can’t we all just chill out a bit and think of the safety of others if not ourselves?

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. He writes a weekly column called "Talking Transportation" for CT Mirror and other publications in the state. Read past Talking Transportation columns here. Contact Jim at the Commuter Action Group.

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  1. Good article, Jim! Something has to be done and very soon. I seldom drive on the interstates, it’s scary enough just driving around rural eastern CT! The lack of patience and consideration seems to worsen by the day – very sad.

  2. I used to commute 28 miles to the west end of Hartford. In my younger years I tended to push past the speed limit to get to work on time or early. Then, somewhere along the line, I realized that if I traveled at a steady 65 mph (on the interstate) I’d get there in slightly over the same travel time as when I traveled like a crazy person. Perhaps increasing age mellowed me out, but the slower, consistent speed worked just as well.

    Too bad that the vast majority of younger drivers do not come to the same realization.

    1. I wouldn’t be so quick to blame craziness on younger drivers. You are right that driving along at the same speed as everyone else gets you there within seconds or minutes of what might be accomplished by zooming in and out of traffic. I regularly drive more than 15,000 miles a year, much of it on Interstates. My non-scientific observation is that craziness belongs mostly to drivers who appear to be over 30 driving by themselves.

      1. You are correct, although it may not always be the solitary drivers zipping along as if on the racetrack. While I was thinking of myself when I post, one could easily remove the word “young” from my post.

  3. That’s a reasonable article with some good points. One portion is incorrect and a major issue was omitted. This is incorrect – “…air bags and other tech in cars are helping us avoid many accidents.” No, air bags do not help avoid accidents. They are passive safety devices that help prevent injury when there is an accident. Devices that help prevent accidents are active safety devices.

    This was omitted – The best and most effective accident prevention, active safety device is our brains. Driving is a cognitive task that requires training, knowledge, practice, plus focused and undistracted attention to the task. The article’s omission of this most critical driving skill is a serious omission. Not addressing the widespread problem of distracted driving is also a serious omission.

  4. Dear Mr Cameron,
    Can you please “Stick to Your Kniting”
    and instead let us know when Metro North will have PTC (Positive Train Control) on 100% of its fleet. Sure, I m worried about automotive speeders and reckless drivers. However. sleeping conductors, cell phone usage while conducting, and excessive speed is a much greater danger when one is riding on a 100 ton train. So, when you get your transportation space in order, then please feel free to tackle another. Thanks!

  5. I think the state comptroller should remove any automotive manufacturers from the pension funds. Obviously, the manufacturers are responsible for the drivers speeding on the state highways. After all the drivers have somewhere to be that is very important and can’t be held responsible for the people that drive slower. Yes, this is sarcasm and yes this is directed at the people in the state that hold gun manufacturers responsible for the actions of sick individuals.

  6. Yes, it’s not a good idea to be a pedestrian hit by a car going 40 MPH. However, most of this article is about failures other than speeding per se. In most cases, difference in speed (going 55 on I84 where the speed limit is 65 and most vehicles are traveling at speeds over 70) is more dangerous than going 70 along with everyone else.

    What’s risky is inattention and running red lights. When I first started driving many years ago, when a light turned red, green appeared on the cross street. In recent decades, lights are programmed to stay red in all directions for a few seconds to accommodate people running the light. However, drivers know that will happen so they run lights long after they have turned red.

    We need to toss our our paranoia about “privacy” and install cameras at intersections and fine motorists for running red lights. Doing so will save many more lives than fussing uselessly about speed.

  7. Could our mean-spirited driving behavior be a reflection of CT culture and its people?

    I didn’t see the rudeness, self-righteousness & disregard for pedestrians and cyclists in other places I’ve lived. You can go to VT, MA, ME or RI to see drivers yield politely to pedestrians anywhere near an intersection. As a pedestrian here, I’ve been cursed at & nearly hit many times. It’s the rare driver who yields to me as a pedestrian, & they often have out-of-state plates.

    If CT society gives a rip about deterring dangerous driving or reducing car culture to save the planet, our behavior doesn’t reflect it. We ignore traffic laws, widen roads in deference to more polluting cars and clear-cut thousands of roadside carbon-absorbing trees. While climate catastrophes mount.

    Rudeness is contagious. But so is civility. It’ll spread faster with more people setting good examples, publishing articles like this, and holding policymakers accountable.

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