Raising the speed limit could be deadly move

Between classes I sometimes turn on my television set just to relieve boredom or clear my head. I can’t watch for five minutes, however, without some type of public service announcement trying to scare the daylights out of me. One thing troubles me, though. In an age where there is so much concern with everything from drugs to unsafe teddy bears, why has no one said anything about a major cause of accidental death—speeding.

Speeding is perhaps more dangerous than any other activity we are privileged to do once we reach a certain age. The scary thing about speeding is that it is so commonplace. Anyone late for an appointment or just in a hurry to have fun is prone to greatly increase the danger posed to himself, his passengers and other motorists. A person need not be drunk or stoned to cause tragedy.

A little more than a week ago, two Chicago area teenagers were killed in a single car accident because their vehicle went off the road. There was the usual stuff in the paper about what great guys they were and how much they would be missed, but when the cause of the accident was listed as “traveling at too high a speed,” I couldn’t help feeling all the more sorry. Two lives were snuffed out, and for what? A few lousy miles per hour. It’s too bad we don’t see commercials where some nervous passenger asks his daredevil friend to slow down.

ecently, some states have grumbled that 55 miles per hour is too low of a speed limit for some rural areas of the country. Hence, an effort is now underway to raise the limit to 65 mph for some country roads and interstate highways. Proponents of the 65 mph speed limit can say all they want, but they are flirting with disaster by advocating such a senseless change.

Those in favor of the higher speed limit argue that driving faster saves time and that they can reach their destinations on time. I suppose they never heard of charter planes or just leaving earlier.

To illustrate the futility of a higher speed limit, imagine driving 100 miles to some destination. At 55 mph, the driving time would be about 109 minutes. At 65 mph, the drive would take little over 92 minutes. Is saving 17 minutes on a long trip worth the added risk of accident (Not to mention wear and tear on the car)?

In addition, a higher speed limit really would serve no purpose. Realistically, people drive between 60 and 65 mph with a 55 mph limit. Raising it to 65 mph would seem to me to just increase traffic to a 70 to 75 mph clip.

Let’s go back to 1974. The Arab oil embargo, which spawned the energy crisis and mile-long gas lines, was in full swing. American cars were not the economical cracker boxes they are today, so, in order to save fuel, motorists were advised to slow down. The new maximum speed limit chosen for the nation’s highways was 55 mph.

American motorists, especially those in my immediate family, were relieved to discover that driving at the slower speed was indeed saving gasoline. But another factor, something unexpected, impressed people even more. Driving at 55 mph drastically reduced the number of automobile accident fatalities on the nation’s highways. In 1970, 54,633 deaths were attributed to automobile accidents. The figure for 1975 reflected a 16 percent decline with the amount dropping to 45,853.

Since 1975, no other form of accidental death has shown any fluctuation of such size. What’s more, the figures have basically stabilized over the years with the number of automobile deaths in 1985 being 45,600.

In the 1964 movie Goldfinger, James Bond, upon learning that Goldfinger was planning to spray a deadly nerve gas over an entire city, angrily said 60,000 people will die senselessly. The arch villain smugly replied that American motorists would have killed that many anyway. A stinging aspect of that discussion was the fact that it was true.

The 55 mph speed limit is saving energy and lives. It’s one law in which the legislators who wrote it can take pride. Let’s not change it.