An Associated Press story reported this week that the Governors Highway Safety Association, an organization of state auto-safety groups, had said that in 42 of 50 states, there is regular slack — 5, even 10 mph — in speed-limit enforcement.

I have just enough lead in the ol' right foot to be pleased about this. Of course, any number of jurisdictions responded to the wire story with "Not here, you don't," and the GHSA isn't happy about the situation at all:

Of the 50 GHSA jurisdictions surveyed, 42 indicated there exists a "cushion" of 5-10 mph, not only in the minds of the public but also in enforcement practice. [GHSA Chair Lt. Colonel Jim] Champagne states, "This cushion truly exists across this country and in some cases is more than 10 mph above posted limits. Law enforcement need to be given the political will to enforce speed limits and the public must get the message that speeding will not be tolerated."

You might think from this relative laxity that speed limits, being semi-safely ignorable in 84 percent of the country, might actually be set arbitrarily too low. GHSA begs to differ:

Of the 50 GHSA jurisdictions that responded to the survey, 38 indicated a speed limit increase in their jurisdiction since 1994. Just as troubling is an analysis from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which reports that 31 states have raised speed limits to 70 mph or higher on some portion of their roadways. A 1999 IIHS study found that deaths increased an estimated 15 percent on interstates and freeways in 24 states that raised speed limits after the repeal of the National Maximum Speed Limit.

The idea that anyone is defending the Double Nickel in the year 2005 is appalling. But remember: the first word in "Insurance Institute for Highway Safety" is "Insurance": the more tickets you accumulate, the more they can jack up your premiums. And besides, the IIHS study would be bogus in the extreme even if it were run by a disinterested party: the numbers don't say what IIHS says they do, and in the years since the survey, despite much more traffic, the death rate stubbornly refuses to shoot upward.

So we're being lied to. What else is new?

This does not mean, of course, that I'm going to go out some time next month and go racing some wisenheimer in a 3-series Bimmer. For one thing, unless he's a total feeb, he should be able to dispatch me and my meager 130 ponies straightaway, at least if we're on a straightaway; I am comparatively fearless in the twisty bits. More to the point, I have better things to do with my time than watch my knuckles turn white against the steering wheel.

This is not to say I've never done this at all. Back in the Jurassic period, I diced with a Porsche 944 literally halfway across Oklahoma, and didn't lose him until he lost a black-and-white, who found me instead. Inexplicably, I was not ticketed, from which I concluded that the policeman figured I couldn't possibly be racing anyone in my little 96-hp Toyota Celica. I wasn't about to mention that the little boîte was good for at least 100 mph.

But I do have history on my side, including 25 years in a row without a traffic fine. For someone who regularly takes advantage of that 5 to 10 mph "cushion," I'm either extremely lucky or very, very careful. And regular readers will note that I've never claimed to be extremely lucky.

The Vent

16 June 2005

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 Copyright © 2005 by Charles G. Hill