Life on the Road
Speeding, congestion: take your pick
Officers patrolling highways typically give motorists a cushion of 10 m.p.h. over the speed limit before stopping them, according to a survey by the Governors Highway Safety Association. The group says that 42 states routinely allow drivers to exceed speed limits before pulling them over, and that this practice creates a potential safety hazard.
“Law enforcement needs to be given the political will to enforce speed limits, and the public must get the message that speeding will not be tolerated,” says Jim Champagne, the association’s chair.
In 1995, Congress allowed states to raise speed limits above 55 m.p.h. in urban areas and 65 m.p.h. in rural areas. Twenty-four states then increased their speed limits. The result in those states, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for High-way Safety, was a 15 percent increase in deaths on interstates and freeways during 1996 and 1997.
“As a country, if we are going to reduce the carnage on our roadways, speeding must be given the same level of attention that has been given to occupant protection and impaired driving,” Champagne says.
Highway patrol officers say that enforcing traffic laws has become difficult be-cause of tight highway safety budgets, a shortage of officers and the focus on homeland security. The 10 states that do have aggressive driving laws include: Ari-zona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Nevada, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Utah and Virginia.
Meanwhile, a report by the Texas Trans-portation Institute found that congestion delayed motorists 79 million more hours and wasted 69 million more gallons of fuel in 2003 than in 2002. “Urban areas are not adding enough capacity, improving operations or managing demand well enough to keep congestion from growing,” says the report. In 2003, there were 3.7 billion hours of travel delay and 2.3 billion gallons of fuel wasted, costing more than $63 billion. The average driver in 51 U.S. cities, including Washington DC, Atlanta, Boston and Chicago, is delayed at least 20 hours a year.
The Senate is debating a bill that would spend $284 billion on highways over the next six years, but highway advocates say that is not nearly enough. One transportation association estimates as much as $400 billion is needed over the next six years to solve traffic problems. The number of vehicle miles traveled has increased 74 percent in the last 23 years, but the amount of roads has increased only 6 percent.
Some cities may adopt the philosophy of “If you don’t build it, they won’t come”— but that doesn’t apply to roads. Austin, TX, for example, did not add road capacity in the 1980s or ’90s, yet in 1982, the average driver was delayed by 11 hours for the year, and in 2003, the same driver was delayed by 51 hours. The report found that coordinating traffic signals and responding quickly to accidents reduced delay by 336 million hours in 2003.
Sources: Governors Highway Safety Assoc-iation, Roemer Report, Texas Transportation Institute