Counter-intuitive, but true

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Corlyss_D
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Counter-intuitive, but true

Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jul 08, 2006 3:16 pm

Safe at Any Speed
With higher speed limits, our highways have been getting safer.

Friday, July 7, 2006 12:01 a.m.

It's another summer weekend, when millions of families pack up the minivan or SUV and hit the road. So this is also an apt moment to trumpet some good, and underreported, news: Driving on the highways is safer today than ever before.

In 2005, according to new data from the National Highway Safety Administration, the rate of injuries per mile traveled was lower than at any time since the Interstate Highway System was built 50 years ago. The fatality rate was the second lowest ever, just a tick higher than in 2004.

As a public policy matter, this steady decline is a vindication of the repeal of the 55 miles per hour federal speed limit law in 1995. That 1974 federal speed limit was arguably the most disobeyed and despised law since Prohibition. "Double nickel," as it was often called, was first adopted to save gasoline during the Arab oil embargo, though later the justification became saving lives. But to Westerners with open spaces and low traffic density, the law became a symbol of the heavy hand of the federal nanny state. To top it off, Congress would deny states their own federal highway construction dollars if they failed to comply.

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."

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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.

Jim Baxter, president of the National Motorists Association, says that by the early 1990s "compliance with the 55 mph law was only about 5%--in other words, about 95% of drivers were exceeding the speed limit." Now motorists can coast at these faster speeds without being on the constant lookout for radar guns, speed traps and state troopers. Americans have also arrived at their destinations sooner, worth an estimated $30 billion a year in time saved, according to the Cato study.

The tragedy is that 43,000 Americans still die on the roads every year, or about 15 times the number of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq. Car accidents remain a leading cause of death among teenagers in particular. The Interstate Highway System is nonetheless one of the greatest public works programs in American history, and the two-thirds decline in road deaths per mile traveled since the mid-1950s has been a spectacular achievement. Tough drunk driving laws, better road technology, and such improving auto safety features as power steering and brakes are all proven life savers.

We are often told, by nanny-state advocates, that such public goods as safety require a loss of liberty. In the case of speed limits and traffic deaths, that just isn't so.

http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial ... =110008621
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Post by mourningstar » Sat Jul 08, 2006 4:15 pm

this is not an coincidence, my big brother who lives in the united states,california.. had a car accident yesterday.. a lady approx. age 70 hit him hard, the backside of the car ,. was damaged badly.. but nobody got hurt, :o
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Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jul 08, 2006 4:39 pm

mourningstar wrote:this is not an coincidence, my big brother who lives in the united states,california.. had a car accident yesterday.. a lady approx. age 70 hit him hard, the backside of the car ,. was damaged badly.. but nobody got hurt, :o
I think you mean it is a coincidence. :) Glad no one was hurt.

While I rejoice in such figures and have no desire to see the 55 mph speed limit return, I do not see the cause and effect here. Many other factors--safer cars, greater use of seatbelts, safer roads, better trained drivers, better traffic control and highway safety measures--may have contributed to this. It is possible that they can establish the link between return to more "natural" speed limits and reduction in accidents (just as they have established the link between availability of abortion and reduction in serious crime); it is possible they have done so. I would like to see some of the details.

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Post by Ralph » Sat Jul 08, 2006 5:04 pm

mourningstar wrote:this is not an coincidence, my big brother who lives in the united states,california.. had a car accident yesterday.. a lady approx. age 70 hit him hard, the backside of the car ,. was damaged badly.. but nobody got hurt, :o
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Post by RebLem » Sat Jul 08, 2006 5:07 pm

The value of the 55 mph limit was not that it kept the highways safer by confining ppl to that speed. It was decided on as a policy for the purpose of conserving fuel, as gasoline burns more efficiently in a car going 55 mph than it does @ higher speeds. A reduction in highway deaths was noted somewhat later as a fortuitous by-product of the policy.

Its not so much that a 55 mph policy keeps everybody not exceeding that speed. It does mean that about 85% of the people on the road will not exceed 65 mph. If the limit is 60 mph, 85% or so will not exceed 70, and so on.

I'm not claiming to be a goody two shoes. I got nailed a few years just outside Stuttgart, Arkansas for exceeding the state hwy limit of 55 mph, and I deserved it.

I think the major reason for the decline is the nationwide effort to toughen DUI enforcement which coincided pretty much with the lifting of the 55 mph limit. One thing for sure--its not because of safer cars. The Bush Administration has made safer car standards "voluntary," meaning it has, effectively, abolished them.
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Post by Ralph » Sat Jul 08, 2006 5:07 pm

I agree with John. It's not for nothing that car manufacturers emphasize safety features and test ratings in their TV and print ads. Cars are safer to crash in now and while the vehicle may be totalled, often the drivers and passengers walk away with minimal injuries.

The nationwide emphasis on law enforcement, particularly DWI (DUI), has had a continuing major impact. The penalties for drunk driving, at least those I'm familiar with in New York, are very severe and have a somewhat deterring effect.

I don't think the 55 mph limit was a great idea but its abandonment alone has little to do with current accident stats.
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Post by DavidRoss » Sat Jul 08, 2006 10:43 pm

jbuck919 wrote:While I rejoice in such figures and have no desire to see the 55 mph speed limit return, I do not see the cause and effect here. Many other factors--safer cars, greater use of seatbelts, safer roads, better trained drivers, better traffic control and highway safety measures--may have contributed to this. It is possible that they can establish the link between return to more "natural" speed limits and reduction in accidents (just as they have established the link between availability of abortion and reduction in serious crime); it is possible they have done so. I would like to see some of the details.
Uh, John? Look at the figures: 33% reduction in number of crashes/miles traveled--thus seatbelts and safer cars (in the sense of crash protection) don't figure into this at all. Driver skills and road conditions have worsened significantly in the past decade, so I doubt that's it, either. And mourningstar's comment about cell phones is perceptive, since folks on cells are worse than drunks and their number is much greater.
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

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Post by Ralph » Sun Jul 09, 2006 7:06 am

DavidRoss wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:While I rejoice in such figures and have no desire to see the 55 mph speed limit return, I do not see the cause and effect here. Many other factors--safer cars, greater use of seatbelts, safer roads, better trained drivers, better traffic control and highway safety measures--may have contributed to this. It is possible that they can establish the link between return to more "natural" speed limits and reduction in accidents (just as they have established the link between availability of abortion and reduction in serious crime); it is possible they have done so. I would like to see some of the details.
Uh, John? Look at the figures: 33% reduction in number of crashes/miles traveled--thus seatbelts and safer cars (in the sense of crash protection) don't figure into this at all. Driver skills and road conditions have worsened significantly in the past decade, so I doubt that's it, either. And mourningstar's comment about cell phones is perceptive, since folks on cells are worse than drunks and their number is much greater.
*****

The cell phone use issue is controversial. It's been made illegal in many states but the laws are widely flouted and are virtually uneforceable after dark.

I've seen studies reporting that eating while driving is more dangerous and causes more accidents than phone conversations. It takes skill to eat and drive. Yesterday I enjoyed take-out matzo ball soup, a pastrami on rye, fries, pickles and cole slaw while navigating the N.Y. Thruway at about 70MPH. Even for a fine driver like me that's difficult.
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Post by jbuck919 » Sun Jul 09, 2006 7:25 am

It is illegal even to drink a beverage while driving in New Jersey. That is why I always add an extra two hours to my trips to Maryland by diverting through Pennsylvania. :)

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Post by Ralph » Sun Jul 09, 2006 7:29 am

jbuck919 wrote:It is illegal even to drink a beverage while driving in New Jersey. That is why I always add an extra two hours to my trips to Maryland by diverting through Pennsylvania. :)
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John, I doubt that's true. Road stops on the Turnpike offer all kinds of beverages to go and I've never heard of a law or regulation anywhere that forbids consuming non-alcoholic drinks while operating a car.
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Post by jbuck919 » Sun Jul 09, 2006 7:35 am

Ralph wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:It is illegal even to drink a beverage while driving in New Jersey. That is why I always add an extra two hours to my trips to Maryland by diverting through Pennsylvania. :)
*****

John, I doubt that's true. Road stops on the Turnpike offer all kinds of beverages to go and I've never heard of a law or regulation anywhere that forbids consuming non-alcoholic drinks while operating a car.
Here is the first relevant hit upon googling:

http://www.crosswalk.com/news/weblogs/t ... 99753.html

Maybe the bill never passed, but I offer this as evidence that the notion was not entirely one of my flights of fantasy. :?

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Post by Ralph » Sun Jul 09, 2006 7:38 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Ralph wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:It is illegal even to drink a beverage while driving in New Jersey. That is why I always add an extra two hours to my trips to Maryland by diverting through Pennsylvania. :)
*****

John, I doubt that's true. Road stops on the Turnpike offer all kinds of beverages to go and I've never heard of a law or regulation anywhere that forbids consuming non-alcoholic drinks while operating a car.
Here is the first relevant hit upon googling:

http://www.crosswalk.com/news/weblogs/t ... 99753.html

Maybe the bill never passed, but I offer this as evidence that the notion was not entirely one of my flights of fantasy. :?
*****

I don't think this bill went anywhere. I'll do a full LEXIS search later.
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Alban Berg

Post by Alban Berg » Sun Jul 09, 2006 7:55 am

Ralph wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:It is illegal even to drink a beverage while driving in New Jersey. That is why I always add an extra two hours to my trips to Maryland by diverting through Pennsylvania. :)
*****

John, I doubt that's true. Road stops on the Turnpike offer all kinds of beverages to go and I've never heard of a law or regulation anywhere that forbids consuming non-alcoholic drinks while operating a car.
This has been proposed in NJ but never passed AFAIK.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/200 ... usat_x.htm
http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/articl ... 07/OPINION
Posted 3/4/2004 11:20 PM Updated 3/5/2004 5:05 AM

Americans driving to distraction
By Debbie Howlett, USA TODAY
Almost as soon as New Jersey Assemblyman Doug Fisher proposed a ban last spring on "distracted driving" — everything from eating a bagel to chatting on a cell phone while behind the wheel — the measure was ridiculed.
Drive-time disc jockeys called the bill "DWE," for driving while eating, and "the ham-sandwich law."

But it wasn't a laughing matter. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that up to 30% of the 3 million accidents a year may be attributable to distracted driving.

"People consider it their basic right to do whatever they want in their car," Fisher says. "People are literally reading the newspaper as they drive down I-95."

The issue of distracted drivers in recent years has focused on the use of cell phones. New York became the first state to ban the use of handheld cell phones while driving in 2001. New Jersey will become the second state in July after passing a similar law last month. Washington, D.C., also passed a ban on handheld cell phones last month, which also goes into effect in July. In New Jersey, Fisher's so-called DWE bill was whittled down to apply only to cell phone use.

Drivers want to be productive

But Fisher says states will have to deal with the broader issue of distracted drivers. "There's carnage on the road because of this," he says.

Drivers have been documented eating, reading, chatting, shaving, primping, e-mailing, watching videos, changing CDs. And all those activities divert attention from the road. A Mason-Dixon poll last spring found that 91% of the drivers surveyed said they had engaged in some sort of risky behavior behind the wheel, including speeding, eating or reading, during the previous six months. Last month, police in Albany, N.Y., cited a driver who was watching an X-rated DVD on a video screen embedded in the passenger-side visor of his Mercedes.

The reason for all the multitasking is simple. Drivers are spending more time on the road — an average of 300 hours in 2002, according to the Texas Transportation Institute — and they want that time to be productive.

Ten states last year considered legislation that would try to curb distracting driving habits. Most of the bills would have allowed police to issue tickets to inattentive drivers, if they were pulled over for speeding or another cause. The proposed measures generally didn't spell out prohibited behavior but gave police discretion to determine what constitutes a distraction. None of the bills passed, although California and Louisiana did enact bans on video monitors within view of the driver.

"The emerging trend is to address a broad range of behaviors on the road," says Matt Sundeen of the National Conference of State Legislatures. "It's still pretty early in the year, but we're continuing to see legislation trying to address this as a broader issue."

Some advocates of highway safety laws are turning to education campaigns. In California and Arizona, 21st Century Insurance is using billboards to get the message across. One billboard shows a cartoon of a driver watching ketchup drip off his burger. The caption reads, "World's Riskiest Restaurant."

"For us, it was a no-brainer," says Larry Krutchik, a company vice president. "It delivers a safety message in a light-hearted way to remind us all that distracted driving is no laughing matter. The response has been tremendous."

But is a drippy lunch more distracting than using a cell phone?

A University of North Carolina study released in August by the AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association, showed that drivers were most likely to swerve when they were eating or reaching for something.

Tracking drivers by video

For the study, 70 drivers were tracked by video camera. At various times, 30% used a cell phone, 90% fiddled with stereo controls and 97% reached for something. In all, drivers were distracted 16% of the time they were driving.

cell phone laws have focused on barring handheld phones, meaning drivers can use an earpiece or speaker while in the car. Verizon Wireless supports statewide efforts to enact hands-free cell phone legislation. The company even testified in support of the bills in New York and New Jersey.

But the wireless industry's position is that all distracted driving — not just cell phones — should be addressed through education, not legislation.

"The more drivers have both hands on the wheel, the better," Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson says. "But that's intuitive, not science. There needs to be more science on this to inform good public policy."

Science is starting to catch up. A University of Utah study, to be published later this year, is among the first to measure the distracting effect of cell phone use, a phenomenon called "inattentional blindness." Researchers found that drivers on cell phones are more risky than drunken drivers.

Using a driving simulator, researchers tracked drivers after giving them vodka and orange juice until they exceeded a blood-alcohol level of .08%, the legal limit for driving in most states. The drivers had fewer accidents and quicker reaction times while they were legally drunk than they did when they were sober and talking on a cell phone.

"There's a huge difference in cognitive impairment. The cell phone pulls you away from the physical environment. You really do tune out the world," says David Strayer, a psychology professor who ran the study.

Whether cell phones are a greater risk than other activities while driving isn't as important as stopping distracted driving altogether, says Fisher, the New Jersey assemblyman.

The point literally hit him last May. He was driving to Trenton to testify about his distracted-driving bill when his car was hit from behind. The other driver, a local TV news anchor, didn't see Fisher had hit the brakes because he was reaching for an orange.


Highway safety bill targets distracted New Jersey drivers
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 07/11/05
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

TRENTON — Pay attention Garden State drivers, this involves you.
A year after New Jersey banned motorists from using hand-held cell phones, there's an effort under way to track other distractions behind the wheel, like fumbling with the CD player, downing that drive-thru window lunch and opening the vanity mirror for some quick grooming.

A bill pending in the Legislature would update police accident reports to include whether motorists had taken their eyes off the road and why. The measure would also require the state's transportation commissioner to annually compile the information.

It's a small change with big implications.

Organizations trying to improve highway safety would gain clearer data on accident causes to better educate motorists on the perils of not paying attention. Also, with distractions noted on crash reports, companies that put vehicles on the road could become more vulnerable to lawsuits, unless they strictly enforce safe-driving policies.

"It's definitely good news. To have good highway safety policy, you have to have good data," said Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Two years ago, the association and the federal government urged states to start logging distractions on crash reports. Nineteen states now do it, about twice as many as four years ago.

The force behind New Jersey's effort is Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski, D-Middlesex.

"The mind can multitask. But the more you give it, the less well it performs any one task," he said.

Under Wisniewski's bill, the types of distraction include car radios, eating, fatigue, audio and videocassette players, personal grooming, and, of course, cell phones.

"I'm not trying to come across as a scold," Wisniewski said. "If you hit something, you will do damage; you could kill someone."

Inattentive driving is blamed for a quarter of all U.S. highway fatalities each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. New Jersey officials say distraction figured into 140 highway fatalities in 2003, the most recent year for data.

A recent, yearlong study by Virginia Tech and the NHTSA tracked 100 volunteer drivers in predominantly city traffic. Their vehicles were fitted with video cameras and instruments to record other factors, like speed.

Results are now being analyzed, but preliminary findings show that inattention of some kind played a role in 80 percent of the accidents in the study period, said NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson.

"The numbers are much higher than we anticipated," Rae said.

Two years ago, the American Automobile Association and researchers at the University of North Carolina similarly tracked 70 drivers to learn what made them take their eyes off the road.

Top causes were leaning over to reach something or fiddling with knobs and buttons on the radio. Cell phones, the emblem of driver distractions, finished lower on the list.

New Jersey's cell phone law took effect a year ago this month. More than 10,000 violators have been ticketed since then.

But NHTSA's Tyson said there's no benefit to banning hand-held phones.

"It's the cognitive distraction that's the key," he said.
The only "distraction" bills widely passed in various states have been on use of cell phones, e.g. in New York, and on listening to Dittersdorf CDs while driving because the mindlessly soporific music puts drivers into a state of disorientated stupefaction. Anyone driving in New York can see these laws are widely violated every day.

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Post by DavidRoss » Sun Jul 09, 2006 9:19 am

Re. distraction while driving and accidents, we should all know about this NHTSA study concluding that drivers on cell phones are twice as dangerous as inebriated ones.

I recall my shock several years ago at seeing a woman reading a newspaper held against her steering wheel in busy commuter traffic in the Caldicott Tunnel. Such homicidal negligence is commonplace today, with cellphones, books, ipods, and notebook computers competing for idiots' attention. And let's not neglect mention of those delightful bimbos who apply makeup at high speed. Not long ago a college-aged girl passed me at about 80 miles an hour (in a 65mph zone) less than a car-length behind the SUV in front of her. She had one foot propped up on the dashboard and was applying nail polish to her toes.
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

"It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character." ~Dale Turner

"Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either." ~Albert Einstein
"Truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it; but, in the end, there it is." ~Winston Churchill

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Post by RebLem » Sun Jul 09, 2006 10:19 am

DavidRoss wrote:Re. distraction while driving and accidents, we should all know about this NHTSA study concluding that drivers on cell phones are twice as dangerous as inebriated ones.

I recall my shock several years ago at seeing a woman reading a newspaper held against her steering wheel in busy commuter traffic in the Caldicott Tunnel. Such homicidal negligence is commonplace today, with cellphones, books, ipods, and notebook computers competing for idiots' attention. And let's not neglect mention of those delightful bimbos who apply makeup at high speed. Not long ago a college-aged girl passed me at about 80 miles an hour (in a 65mph zone) less than a car-length behind the SUV in front of her. She had one foot propped up on the dashboard and was applying nail polish to her toes.
These sound like they'd make good PSAs for public transportation.
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Post by Lark Ascending » Sun Jul 09, 2006 2:34 pm

DavidRoss wrote:Re. distraction while driving and accidents, we should all know about this NHTSA study concluding that drivers on cell phones are twice as dangerous as inebriated ones.
In Britain using a mobile phone whilst driving is banned, although I've seen plenty of drivers disregard this virtually impossible to enforce law.
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