Saturday, July 08, 2006

Driving Fast and Yes, Being Safe: Speed Limits and Rascal Flatts

There's a song I like, "Fast Cars and Freedom," but more about that later. Most of us like to or end up finding ourselves at some point driving fast ... at least faster than the posted speed limit.

Some years ago, the federal speed limit was repealed and lo and behold the world did not come to an end. However, as the Wall Street Journal editorial "Safe at Any Speed" points out, the fuss seems to have been much ado about nothing:

In repealing the law, the newly minted Republican majority in Congress declared that states were free to impose their own limits. Many states immediately took up this nod to federalism by raising their limits to 70 or 75 mph. Texas just raised its speed limit again on rural highways to 80.

This may seem non-controversial now, but at the time the debate was shrill and filled with predictions of doom. Ralph Nader claimed that "history will never forgive Congress for this assault on the sanctity of human life." Judith Stone, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, predicted to Katie Couric on NBC's "Today Show" that there would be "6,400 added highway fatalities a year and millions of more injuries." Federico Pena, the Clinton Administration's Secretary of Transportation, declared: "Allowing speed limits to rise above 55 simply means that more Americans will die and be injured on our highways."

We now have 10 years of evidence proving that the only "assault" was on the sanctity of the truth. The nearby table shows that the death, injury and crash rates have fallen sharply since 1995. Per mile traveled, there were about 5,000 fewer deaths and almost one million fewer injuries in 2005 than in the mid-1990s. This is all the more remarkable given that a dozen years ago Americans lacked today's distraction of driving while also talking on their cell phones.

Of the 31 states that have raised their speed limits to more than 70 mph, 29 saw a decline in the death and injury rate and only two--the Dakotas--have seen fatalities increase. Two studies, by the National Motorists Association and by the Cato Institute, have compared crash data in states that raised their speed limits with those that didn't and found no increase in deaths in the higher speed states.

Wow. Imagine that. I remember back when California increased its speed limit to 65. There were all sorts of doomsayers (on the left), but the Republicans held firm and got some Democratic support and the bill became law. Now we get to drive faster ... at least get to do so legally.

Which reminds me. There always seems to be a Gunt'ry song for every occasion. So when I read the editorial, the thought of being able to drive somewhat fast and being free popped into my head. Then the song soon followed. Maybe it was the other way around. Anyhow, here's the chorus (however much it is more about someone than about driving fast(er) on our highways):

I see a dust trail following an old red Nova
Baby blue eyes and your head on my shoulder
Wait, baby don't move, right there it is
A T-shirt hanging off a dogwood branch
That river was cold but we gave love a chance
Yeah To me
You don't look a day over fast cars and freedom
That sunset, riverbank, first time feeling

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