Speed limits are a tool, not a solution

Published 6:54 pm Friday, July 26, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

Lowering the speed limit on roads where people drive too fast is a fine idea. But it’s certainly not a silver bullet.

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Speed limits are just one ingredient, and a fairly minor one at that, in the recipe for safe roads.

The Boyle County Fiscal Court is getting ready to lower the speed limit from 35 to 25 miles per hour on around a dozen county roads. Many of these roads are rural, narrow lanes with family homes along them, so the 25 MPH restriction makes sense.

If cars could be physically restrained to the speed limit, we’d be done — vehicles would universally travel at a safe speed on these roads and we’d have nothing more to talk about.

But speed limits are not carved in stone or programmed into car engines. Speed limits live in a weird gray world in between hard and fast rules and hopeful aspirations. They are as much the law as they are motivational posters.

That’s because law enforcement cannot be everywhere at once, as Sheriff Derek Robbins was careful to point out recently — nor would any of us want such a police state.

Setting the speed limit to 25 MPH in neighborhoods with little kids running around is great. It’s also just one step out of many. Changing the speed limit and going home would be like running the first K of a 5K and calling it quits.

In order to really make our roads safer, we have to run the other 4K.

We need to better inform people about why the speed limit changed. We also need to better inform people about why excessive speed is dangerous.

Speed on its own is not necessarily what causes wrecks. You may know a road really well and be able to drive it 10 or 15 MPH over even without ever leaving your lane or feeling out of control. But speed reduces your window to react to unexpected events. And it means your car takes longer to stop or turn when you tell it to.

Most people think they’re above-average drivers and if they’re comfortable driving above the speed limit, it’s still safe. They’re thinking about the 99 times out of 100 when nothing unexpected happens and ignoring the one time when a kid runs in the street or another driver looks down at their phone and they’re going to fast to do anything about it.

We also need more people to do the math on speeding and realize it’s not really saving them the time they think it is. If you drive 1 mile at 25 MPH instead of 1 mile at 35 MPH, it takes just 41 seconds more time.

We’re all familiar with how it feels to drive a road slower than you usually do — it feels like it’s taking forever and you’re going to 10 or 15 minutes late. The reality is traveling at speeds above what humans are capable of distorts our conception of time. We might feel like 25 MPH is walking and 35 MPH is running, when really the former is a gallop and the latter is just a quicker gallop.

And you’re not just spending half a minute more in the car if you drive slower, you’re also reducing wear on your engine and suspension and getting better fuel efficiency.

There will still be people who just don’t care and want to speed regardless. That’s why speed limits aren’t only motivational; they can be enforced when necessary.

As long as the Boyle County community realizes all this and we don’t get stuck thinking of speed limits and speeding tickets as our only strategy, we think the new lower speed limits can be a good thing.