Passing Zone

Speed Kills — But You Can Help Stop It

Blog Commentary by David Cullen, Executive Editor

August 1, 2017

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“You can’t tackle our rising epidemic of roadway deaths without tackling speeding,” said NTSB Acting Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt, “and you can’t tackle speeding without the most current research. Speed kills." Photo: Minnesoto DOT/Julie Bottolfson
“You can’t tackle our rising epidemic of roadway deaths without tackling speeding,” said NTSB Acting Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt, “and you can’t tackle speeding without the most current research. Speed kills." Photo: Minnesoto DOT/Julie Bottolfson

A new report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board points an unwavering finger at the deadly toll that speeding by motorists keeps taking on our highways.

In its study, NTSB found that speeding was linked to 112,580 fatalities resulting from highway crashes of passenger cars between 2005 and 2014. In that same period, only car crashes involving alcohol consumption killed more persons… 368 more to be exact, for a ghastly total of 112,948. In no regard, then, is there any good news here.

But the thing about speeding — and the board gets right to this point in a press release announcing the actions it is taking to hopefully reduce this cause of carnage — is that to speed is not socially taboo. That is to say, there is no stigma to getting caught speeding, unlike with driving drunk or drug-impaired or perhaps, for that matter, driving while fatigued or distracted.  

The other thing about speeding, it occurs to me, is that intentional speeding is not necessarily driven by other factors. Yes, drivers who are impaired by consuming alcohol or drugs or who are distracted by texting etc. might well speed (I’m assuming that when tired behind the wheel — as I have been more times than I care to admit — drivers tend to poke along or drift off the road rather than accelerate much, but correct me if I’m wrong). But the speeding driver is more than likely not to pull all the other fatal stunts that a drunk or drugged or distracted or fatigued driver might inadvertently pull before causing a crash.

My point being that if any of the offenders noted above — except the garden-variety speeder — is pulled over for being a menace on the highway and at the very least is ticketed, the chances are good that he or she will also get plenty of shaming by everyone from the folks at traffic court to their families and friends and in some cases, their employers. So much tut-tutting or worse that there’s at least a chance they won’t repeat their performance anytime soon (notwithstanding that most alcoholics and drug addicts are not going to get clean and sober after one traffic mishap… yet they might walk or Uber it next time).

But I just don’t see the Joe or Jane Speeder meeting with much condemnation when they score a speeding ticket. No shame and no what-ifs, unless maybe the motorist is a teen with a freshly laminated driver’s license. Nope. What usually happens is a speeder recounts how they somehow slipped through a speed trap or how they “managed” to hit a certain insane speed before getting pulled over or claim other dubious bragging rights. Then he or she is met with laughing, nodding approval — which then provides an opening for other speed freaks to chime in with their own glorious tales of speed traps and "feeling like flying."

To be sure, no one I know of ever tells a speeder, “Maybe you should have taken it easier out there” the way they would tell a drunk, “Maybe you should have laid off the booze” or a druggie, “Maybe you should have driven clean,” or a texting fool, “Maybe you should have turned off the phone,” or a worn-out driver, “Maybe you should have pulled over and napped.”

Indeed, as NTSB pointed out, “speeding has few negative social consequences compared to the consequences of an arrest or conviction for driving under the influence.”

The study also found that while drivers may say they’re aware that speeding kills, they also see it as “common driving behavior” in the U.S. In other words, “If everyone else does it, why not me?” Childish, yes, but a remarkably common attitude among adult Americans.

“You can’t tackle our rising epidemic of roadway deaths without tackling speeding."

“You can’t tackle our rising epidemic of roadway deaths without tackling speeding,” said NTSB Acting Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt, “and you can’t tackle speeding without the most current research. Speed kills. This study examines how it kills and what actions can be taken to save lives and prevent speeding-related crashes.”

Per the results of its study on reducing speeding-related passenger vehicle crashes, NTSB is recommending a range of actions be taken. These include completing all the points laid out in the DOT 2014 Speed Management Program Plan, assessing the effectiveness of point-to-point speed enforcement in the U.S., incentivizing both car makers and buyers to adopt “intelligent speed adaptation systems,” increasing the adoption of speeding-related Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria Guideline data elements, and improving consistency in law enforcement reporting of speeding-related crashes.

All those, of course, are only recommendations, because NTSB is only empowered to make recommendations, not to force the writing or enforcement of safety rules.

Given the deadly seriousness with which excessive speed on the road — by car or truck drivers, for that matter — should be addressed, allow me to make two more recommendations. One: Let all of us in trucking aim to set a positive example and strive not to speed in our daily lives. And two: Let us also not make light of those among us who still choose to speed and thus so willfully and recklessly put their lives, our lives, and the lives of those we love, in jeopardy every time they drive down a road.


  1. 1. Dave Augustine [ August 02, 2017 @ 03:19AM ]

    I see speeding today as a result of two factors: 1) Societal - People are less polite, possibly due to being constantly bombarded by negativity around them and the feeling they are somehow being slighted. 2) Legal - Law enforcement doesn't enforce "minor" speeding (1-8 mph over the speed limit). The posted speed limit is the maximum, not a suggestion.

  2. 2. Kenny Scott [ August 02, 2017 @ 03:40AM ]

    It is the reckless driving that kills not the speed. If you drive at a safe distance ,adjust for conditions ,use turn signals and common sense plus courtesy we would have little problem,but Cdl training is a joke and also our driver ed system also. Again and again government never fixes the problem the just react with a saying or rule to look politically correct. People just do not understand how dangerous a highway is because they are not educated that way.

  3. 3. Richard Pingel [ August 02, 2017 @ 04:50AM ]

    The headline is misleading and NHTSA's conclusions are grossly misleading and misguided. Excessive speed is not a factor. Too fast for conditions is the reason for the majority of accidents. In fact, the vast majority of crashes happen off the Interstate System where speeds are lower.

  4. 4. James Alford [ August 02, 2017 @ 11:10AM ]

    Speeding tickets are nothing but another way of taxing. Speed never causes accidents. Going to fast for conditions, tailgating, etc, those are the things that causes accidents. Teach people to drive better, enforce laws regarding other bad driving habits and you will reduce accidents. But that takes more effort on the part of police.

  5. 5. Luther O. Cox, Jr., PE, F [ August 02, 2017 @ 02:28PM ]

    As a Forensic Engineer with 42 years of investigating collisions, I have found that excessive differential speed and changing lanes are the real problems. But both are hard to legislate and enforce, so speed gets blamed. And most of the tickets given are when the traffic is light, the road the safest, and enforcement easy. If you want to reduce accidents, require driver training that teaches the driver the limits of the vehicle performance so they know when they are in trouble and know how to avoid the collision, like law enforcement are trained.

  6. 6. Chet Cline [ August 02, 2017 @ 03:28PM ]

    As usual, governments do what is easiest, and makes money from. If we truly wanted to stop loss of life, we'd have a universal speed limit of 25 mph, which of course defeats the purpose of roads. Driving too fast for the conditions and not knowing how to drive are the biggest problems, not speed.


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Author Bio

David Cullen

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Executive Editor

Executive Editor David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.


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