“The Speeding Controversy”
By: Justin Albano (aka KamenRider Core)
The instructions for this report can be found at:
This report is for Dr. Leon James’ 409a class, Generation 31, titled “Driving Psychology: Driving in the Age of Rage.” The class covers subjects and issues that deal with aggressive driving and controversial driver practices in traffic. One topic that this paper will cover is speeding. It is generally said that speeding plays a factor in a lot of automobile/motorcycle accidents. Is this necessarily true? What other factors play into traffic accidents? I will explore deeper into the subject of speeding and hopefully give you, the reader, a better understanding of the subject.
Is “speeding” dangerous?
I. “Speeding” vs. “Breaking the Speed Limit”
What is “speeding” and what is “breaking the speed limit” is? I asked a friend of mine the first part of the question and he thought that speeding is, on the subject of the law, when you are going above the posted speed limit in a vehicle on the road. From how I understood it, it sounds like he believes that “speeding” and “breaking the speed limit” is basically the same thing. It is safe to assume that the majority of drivers here in America usually drive above posted speed limits, especially on highways and freeways. It is seen every day here in Hawaii’s infamous H-1 freeway. The posted speed limit mainly ranges from 45 miles per hour to 55 miles per hour. But, do drivers in this state drive at these speed limits? From my observation, the answer is no, they do not. Given that there is no congestion and the roads are mostly clear, I have seen drivers zip down the lanes 5 to 20 times more than the posted speed limit. I am guilty of this as well, as I find myself going 65 miles per hour in a zone that is posted at 55 miles per hour. Even the Honolulu Police Department officers can be seen going beyond the speed limits. We know that society is taught the maxim that “speed kills,” leading to the belief that speeding causes automotive accidents. But, should this saying be taken as fact?
In Dr. Leon James’ book, “Road Rage and Aggressive Driving,” he explains the “speed limit + x” rule. Let us assume that drivers consider x to equal 15 miles per hour above the speed limit (x=15 mph). Let us also assume that these drivers are driving on a road with a posted speed limit of 50 miles per hour. Applying the “speed limit + x” rule, these drivers believe that one starts to begin speeding at 65 miles per hour (50 mph + 15 mph=65 mph). Dr James also cites in his book that federal studies have found that drivers going 10 to 15 miles per hour faster have very low accident rates. Those who travel 20 to 25 miles per hour faster are pretty much on par, in terms of car accident rates, when compared to drivers following speed limits. The drivers that cause the most accidents are those travelling 10 or more under the speed limit and those that travel at 30 or more. Looking at these findings, you can say that “speed variance” plays a more important role than cars that are just “speeding.” Speeding becomes dangerous when a driver’s speed does not match with the speed norms set by the drivers around him.
II. Stances on “Speeding Laws” By Various Social and Government Constituencies
The subject of speeding is basically divided down in to two groups; “those who support speeding” and “those who are against speeding.” In the group that supports speeding, members are usually experienced drivers. Those in the opposing group mainly consist of those that believe that speed limits are set for safety reasons and going beyond them will cause accidents.
According to a report from a symposium in 1999, named “Aggressive Driving and The Law,” by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the group Citizens Against Speeding and Aggressive Driving (CASAD) claimed that current laws on the road are not working or being enforced. The evidence provided is that a study done in Philadelphia found that around 16,000 tickets for speeding were cited by law enforcement, and that only around 5,000 were cited in 1995. They demand that law enforcement agencies need to uphold the law against speeders and aggressive drivers and become stricter on such matters. CASAD seeks to reduce what they deem is “deadly driving.”
In recent news, truckers in Canada are upset by a “speed limiter” law passed by legislation, limiting truck drivers to travel up to a speed of 105 km/h (around 64 mph). The law claims that it will help reduce collisions between trucks and smaller vehicles. Some groups and internet forums (the two links are examples), which are mainly composed of truck drivers, are against the law, saying that trucks traveling at such speeds, when the trucks used are optimized to run efficiently from 100 to 116 km/h, will have a negative effect. People on the forums say that the actual traffic flow in some areas, where trucks are generally present, is about 120 km/h. The speed limit posted is 100 km/h. Since trucks will be moving slower than cars going about 120 km/h, there will be an increase of road rage and near miss accidents.
In the same internet forum above, one poster said that he read an article, which was not cited, about a university study where students drove in a 4 lane road, with one car in each lane. What the students did was drive side-by-side at the posted speed limit, meaning that they were in no violation in speed laws. The result was a traffic jam noticeable of up to 30 miles long. So, are speed laws a good thing or a bad thing?
III. “Accidents Caused By Speeding” vs. “Accidents Caused By Driver Error”
Looking at the behaviors of drivers mentioned in the past two sections, we can say that most drivers will go beyond the posted speed limit. Looking back at the maxim “speed kills,” how many automotive accidents and deaths are caused by speeding? In an article by James Slack, for a United Kingdom news site, he reports that the Department for Transportation had found that only one out of 20 car accidents are caused by drivers going beyond the speed limit. That is basically fiver percent! The Department for Transportation originally claimed that motorists going faster than the speed limit were responsible for 15 percent of road accidents. They came to 15 percent, as opposed to the actual fiver percent, by adding vehicles that were traveling fast for road conditions (i.e. slick roads due to rain) but were not breaking the speed limit.
What they did find was that other contributing factors were the main causes of accidents. Some examples would be not looking before changing lanes, driving while under the influence, misjudging distance and speed of vehicles and objects, etc. These would all be considered accidents caused by driver error. Speed may play as a factor, but isn’t necessarily the cause. For example, a driver is about to exit into the freeway on a wide curve. The speed limit posted on the curve is 35 mph. Also, it is raining and the road is very slippery. It is usually taught that drivers should go slower than the speed limit during such road conditions, but some believe they are still safe. So, the driver continues to drive the slick curve at the posted speed limit, but decides to tap his brakes a little to slow down. Unfortunately, his car starts to hydroplane and loses control of his car and then slams into the guard rail. It wasn’t his speed that caused the accident, but his lack of judgment in driving in inclement weather conditions. Another example of driver error is a car merging into another lane. Let us assume that there are cars on a four lane highway, in which the posted speed limit is 55 mph. But, drivers in the far left lane (aka the fast lane) are going around 65 mph. We have a driver traveling at 50 mph wanting to enter the far left lane. If the driver were to remain at the speed while making a sudden merge, it is very possible that cars approaching behind him may hit him, or swerve into the other lanes and hit other vehicles. In this case, it would be the driver going 50mph’s fault for not adjusting to the norms set in the fast lane by the other drivers, mainly due to his lack of skill.
Inattentiveness is a driver error
IV. Speeding Tickets, “Miles Over Limit”, and Law Enforcement
For some unfortunate drivers that are caught going a few miles above the speed limit, they may get cited a ticket from law enforcement officials. Or, they just might be let off the hook. This type of scenario varies a lot in different places. In the book “Beyond the Limits: A Law Enforcement Guide to Speed Enforcement,” printed by DIANE Publishing, it says that “it is estimated that 20 million tickets are issued each year for speeding.” After pulling drivers that were speeding over, officers issuing the tickets may even go beyond that and issue citations for things like wearing no seatbelts, or driving under the influence.
Officers are usually lenient with people going five to ten miles per hour above posted speed limits. But, people are starting to believe that, due to the current economy being at a low point in time in the United States, law enforcement officials are issuing more tickets, mainly because they are taking away that leniency and are now pulling drivers over for even going one or two miles per hour above the posted speed limit. In the news articles “More Speeding in a Tough Economy?” by Brigida Mack, and “Down Economy Could Mean More Speeding Tickets” by Catharine Holland, they explore this issue, referring to an article from USA Today that published the findings. It is said that due to poor revenue and budgets, police department are cracking down on drivers exceeding the speed limits at any speed. It is also said that a poor economy commonly lead to more tickets. In a blog by John Neff, he posted something titled “Speeding Tickets: 65 Issued Per Minute and Other Fun Facts.” As the title suggests, 65 speeding tickets are issued each minute in the United States. With fines averaging around $150 dollars for each ticket, about $5,100,000,000 in revenue is made each year. Also, a city experiencing a decrease of 10 percent in economic growth is usually found citing speeding tickets at a growth of 6.4 percent. What also plays into factor of issuing these tickets are errors made by radar guns tracking a driver’s speed. It is found that radar guns that are held in a stationary position result in 10 to 20 percent tickets issued in error. That error is increased to 30percent if the radar is in a moving vehicle.
Law enforcement can be pretty unfair about the issue. In one case, a poster put up an article on his group’s webpage, Free Republic, called “The Case for Higher Speed Limits on Hwy. 401 (Trans-Canada Hwy).” In it, it discusses how one driver was issued a ticket for obstruction of traffic when he and another driver, driving side –by-side, were traveling at the posted speed limit of 100 km/h. This is comparable to the university students in section II. A few weeks earlier, the same driver was issued a speeding ticket for traveling 117 km/h on the same highway. People who have studied that highway have found that drivers usually traveling from 110 to 130 km/h. So, it is very unfair for a person to be issued a speeding ticket just to be issued another ticket for following the speed limit. Jim Baxter of the National Motorist Association stated that “police like the low limit because it gives them a reason to stop anyone they want.”
One mile over the limit just might be enough…
V. Research Indicating That Current Speed Enforcement Practices Are Based On Inadequate Research Findings About How Speed Limits Contribute To Accidents
When reviewing the past four sections, we can see that speeding doesn’t necessarily be the main culprit in automotive accidents. In section I, it says that speed variance, not excessive speeding, is usually the main factor in accidents. Section II backs up that claim with the truckers explaining that the speed limiters on their vehicles cause near-miss accidents with smaller vehicles, and the university students that followed the speed limit in which they caused a four-lane traffic build up. In section III, I explored how driver error and driver lack of skill play in to accidents. The original 15percent of accidents caused by speeding, as founded by the Department for Transportation of the United Kingdom, included factors such as drivers driving under the influence, failure to judge one’s car and other cars/objects’ speed, driving fast in unfavorable conditions even when following the speed limit, etc. In actuality, 5 percent of those accidents were truly caused by excessive speeding, alone.
On the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety’s website, they have a Question and Answer page about speed and speed limits. In question 10, it talks about the design speed of highways and speed limits. It says that there are some highways where the design speed is sometimes faster than the posted speed limit. Design speeds are meant for ideal road conditions. The speed limit is made up, since it takes in to consideration unsafe weather conditions such as slick roads caused by rain. Again, lack of judgment for poor road conditions is considered a driver’s error, and should not be blamed on speed itself.
In a Buffalo University new article, titled “Speed Kills, But on Interstates, Speed Variance Is More Deadly,” has found research suggesting that design speeds, not just speed, can increase accidents. It says that speed limits should be based off of topography. Curvy roads would have a lower design speed, while long, straight roads would have a higher design speed. When speed variance comes in to play, it affects the rate of accidents. If everyone were to travel with or around the sound driving speed, the lesser the variance the lesser accidents will occur. They also studied the effects of the speed limit being raised at the New York Thruway from 55 mph to 65 mph. What they found was a 42.5 percent decrease in mortality. What was also found was that accidents caused by vehicles traveling 10 miles above the original speed limit of 55 mph were decreased from 39 percent to 8 percent when the limit was raised to 65 mph. To sum up the study, it stresses that speed variance and road topography play important roles when driving safely. To prevent accidents, take in to the consideration the conditions of the environment of the road and travel at or around the same speed of the drivers around you.
VI. “Target Risk” and the Speeding Controversy
“Target risk” is the risk that one is willing to take as a driver. It ranges from a driver’s over all skill and judgment, all the way down to the specifications on their vehicle. One error in any of those areas can lead to an accident, in which most of those cases will be tied to speeding. A few months ago for Air Force ROTC, we were given a briefing on motorcycle safety. One of the things mentioned in the briefing is choosing the right bike when going out to purchase one. It was recommended for beginners to choose bikes that go up to a certain speed, because you don’t want a totally new motorcyclist driving a bike up to speeds that they cannot handle. That’s just bad judgment in their part.
The gap in skill between drivers can be very essential on the road. For instance, let is revisit the driver going 50 mph attempting to merge in to a lane where the drivers are whizzing past 15 mph more than he is. If he plans to maintain that speed because he is does not feel comfortable going faster than the posted speed limit, he is risking it by not adjusting his speed to everyone else’s. In a completely opposite scenario, we will assume that there is a lone driver traveling at 75 miles per hour, while everyone else is traveling at or around 65 miles per hour. This lone driver is also weaving in and around traffic. Because he is not adjusted to the drivers around him, he is raising his speed variance. With this high variance and reckless behavior of weaving around traffic, he is risking his own safety and those around him.
VII. Speed Limits Are Set Too Low For Local and Political Reasons
Because speed is seen as dangerous, local and political authorities push and put out speed limits that are believed to be safe traveling speeds. The speed limit is usually set according to the 85th percentile, and most speed limits are set at about 10 miles per hour below that. Again, design speed, speed variance, and road topography and conditions play a role in setting the limits. But, we have already explained that low speed variance and good driver judgment on road conditions can lower accident and mortality rates. According to a report done in 2003 by the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation, traffic engineers have found that drivers travel at reasonable speeds and that accidents rely more on the variance of speed between vehicles. They also state that accidents are more likely to happen if cars travel faster OR slower than the average speed of traffic.
Recapping section IV of this report, I stated in it that there are findings that the poor economy tends to have more speeding tickets cited to drivers. Since we know that most drivers have a tendency to go faster than posted speed limits, this makes it easier for law enforcement officers to detect and capture drivers going fast in areas where the speed limit is set low. The more tickets issue, the more revenue is made for the city. In that same report, it is shown that out of stated drivers are more likely to get speeding tickets than in state drivers. A reason could be that these out of state drivers are not familiar with the speed limits set in the areas they are driving in. In some cases, the speed limits are not posted or are obscured from view by objects, such as trees. Those kinds of problems can actually affect local drivers as well.
Speed limits are set below the design speeds for safety reasons
VIII. Moral and Philosophical Issues Regarding Speed Enforcement Practices
Some groups believe that speeding laws should be properly enforced. Basically, anything going beyond the posted speed limit should result in some form of penalty. Revisiting Citizens Against Speeding and Aggressive Driving (CASAD), they seek out to reduce speeding habits and want law enforcement officials to be strict on road laws. From the symposium report in section II, CASAD’s goals and beliefs are as follows:
Of course, not everyone agrees with these views. There are those who advocate going faster than the speed limit, using findings and results in issues regarding speed variance, the structure of roads playing a role in accidents, driver errors account for more accidents, and so on and so forth.
IX. Psychological Issues Causing Difficulty in Following Speed Limits & Driver Aggression
Stress and driving can lead to driver aggression
Since we know that people speed all the time, what are the excuses that they come up with to justify how fast they are going? Probably the main reasons are that they are late for an event/work, or that they are annoyed by how slow other cars are moving when they could be moving quicker and just want to get to their destination faster. People can become really stressed out when they are late for things such as work or if they think the drivers around them are inadequate in skill. When they get stuck in traffic, they’ll find any opportunity that allows them to move faster, such as weaving through cars and speeding up when the traffic clears up. If a speeder can’t pass a slower vehicle, the speeder may begin tailgating the vehicle in front, which can intimated the slower driver. These kinds of actions are considered to be aggressive driving.
In the book, “Road Rage,” by Maria Garase, it states that “individuals have a relationship with their vehicles; thus, vehicles have personal value.” People can buy cars that match their personality and status. One thing we learned in Dr. James’ class is that a vehicle can become an extension of one’s self on the road. Sometimes, a big and fast truck can be intimidating to drivers with smaller and slower cars. Then there are those with sports cars with sleek designs and were built for speed. Some of those that drive sports cars can become engulfed with the power of how fast their car can go that it can become a hazard on the road if they decide to race other cars that are faster.
But, a person’s personality equating to driving skills isn’t entirely true, at least when it comes to Second Life. For those of you not familiar with it, Second Life is a virtual world where users create avatars, usually of themselves, and replicate activities that can be done in real life. Since this is a course on driving, we engaged in the driving aspect of Second Life. Our class experiences have been posted on our Google Groups page: Driving Psychology G31. Because of the lack of laws and restrictions in this virtual world, I found myself and others become reckless drivers. We can be seen speeding and crashing into objects and people. Basically, doing everything you can’t do in real life. And all of this can be done at the cost of nothing. There are no penalties. Of course, none of us really drive like this in real life. I guess it could be a kind of suppressed aggression that we can release in a world without consequences. Since it is your avatar that you can control, you generally have the same personality. But, since we have found that no one drives in real life the way they do in Second Life, it can’t be really said that personality reflects driving habits.
Information sources that were read and/or used for this report:
Slack, J. (2006, September 28). Only One in 20 road accidents
caused by breaking speed limit. Retrieved from
Ditchfield, M. (2010, March 11). Vehicles break the speed limit .
Retrieved from http://www.epworthbells.co.uk/news/Vehicles-
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data
Institute, (2009, December). Q&As: speed and speed
limits. Retrieved from http://www.iihs.org/research/qanda
Garber, N.J., & Gadirau, R. (1988, July). Speed variance and its
influence on accidents. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov
University at Buffalo NewsCenter, . (2006, October 31). Speed kills,
but on interstates, speed variance is more deadly. Retrieved
NHTSA (1999, January). Aggressive driving and the law: a
symposium. Retrieved from http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people
Parker, M.R., Sung, H., & Dereniewski, L.J. (2003, Spring). Review
and analysis of posted speed limits and speed limit setting
practices in british columbia. Retrieved from http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/publications/eng_publications/speed_review/Speed_Review_Report.pdf
DIANE Publishing Co. (1994). Beyond the limits: a law
enforcement guide to speed enforcement. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=RHdTxXjdFOYC&pg=PR12&
Evans, L. (1991). Traffic safety and the driver. Retrieved from
James, L., & Nahl, D. (2000). Road rage and aggressive driving:
steering clear of highway warfare. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=UaOGQgAACAAJ&
Holland, C. (2010, March 31). Down economy could mean more
speeding tickets . Retrieved from http://www.azfamily.com/
Mack, B. (2010, April 02). More Speeding tickets in a tough
economy?. Retrieved from http://www.wbtv.com/Global
Neff, J. (2010, April 12). Speeding tickets: 65 issued per minute and
other fun facts. Retrieved from http://www.autoblog.com
Anderson, M.A. (2010, March 31). Excessive speeding results in
death of dallas, texas man . Retrieved from http://www.dallasfortworthcaraccidentlawyer.com/2010/03
Garase, M.L. (2006). Road rage. Retrieved from
Galovski, T.E., Malta, L.S., & Blanchard, E.B. (2006). Road rage:
assessment and treatment of the angry, aggressive driver.
NHTSA (2005, June). Analysis of speeding-related fatal motor
vehicle traffic crashes. Retrieved from http://www-
NHTSA, . (2005, July). Speeding-related crash fatalities by month,
day, and selected holiday periods. Retrieved from http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/809890.PDF
Albano, Justin (aka KamenRider Core)
Driving Psychology G31 class
Class Home Page: www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/leonj/leonpsy31/classhome-g31.htm