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Trucks at Work

Speeding remains highway safety sticking point

We need to bring the same level of federal and state energy to addressing speed that was brought to tackling seat belt use and drunk driving. More than 10,000 families are losing a loved one every year because of speeding-related crashes. It is time for action.” –Troy Costales, chairman, Governors Highway Safety Association

It’s more than a little ironic that despite all the rhetoric flung hither and thither about the threat fatigue poses to highway safety – especially where truck drivers and hours of service (HOS) regulations are concerned – it turns out that speeding is far and away a greater issue as it remains a factor in approximately one third of traffic deaths every year, according to a new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

[.] The group noted that despite progress in nearly every other area of highway safety, speeding continues to be a major factor in a tremendous number of highway fatalities: in 2010 alone, for instance, some 10,530 people lost their lives in speeding-related crashes in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, representing 31% of all traffic deaths, according to data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Here’s the kicker: since 2000, the share of traffic fatalities linked to speeding has increased by 7%, even as seat belt non-use in fatal crashes dropped 23% and alcohol-impaired fatalities declined 3%, GSHA stressed. Thus speeding is a critical safety metric where progress has not been made in almost three decades, noted Troy Costales, GHSA’s chairman.

[One way trucking is trying to address the issue of speeding and other driver-related issues is through the use of better training aids, such as simulators.]

The group’s new report, Survey of the States: Speeding and Aggressive Driving, includes responses from highway safety offices in all 50 states and Guam. States were similarly surveyed on this topic in 2005. The survey revealed little improvement in state laws since that time, with some states in fact regressing. Among the findings:

  1. Seven states (Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia) have increased speed limits to as high as 85 mph on certain roadways. This occurred despite research showing that an increase in traffic deaths was attributable to raised speed limits on all road types after the 1995 repeal of federal speed limits.
  2. Only two states increased fines for speeders (Connecticut for all speeders and Wyoming for drivers of commercial vehicles). Three states (Georgia, Hawaii and Pennsylvania) created a new "super" or "excessive" speeder classification.
  3. Only 14 states allow automated speed enforcementof some kind (such as red light cameras) while only two (Tennessee and Utah) allow it in all areas of the state.
  4. Only one state – Indiana – has enacted an aggressive driver law.
  5. Survey respondents were asked to cite the largest obstacles to addressing speed and 78% selected "public indifference to speeding," while 61% selected "public perception that speed enforcement is just a revenue generator." Another 43% of respondents cited "lack of federal funding for enforcement."

“A major challenge to the enforcement community is a reduction in state and local law enforcement personnel available to conduct speeding and aggressive driving enforcement efforts,” noted Costales. "Not having enough officers available to conduct speed enforcement, when this form of aggressive driving is so prevalent, makes it difficult to convince offenders that speeding is unacceptable."

[Making sure vehicles are in good operating condition before heading out onto the highway is another critical issue, too. In that vein, here's a clip of an English trucking firm, Van Hee, detailing its "pre-trip" inspection routine.]

He went on to point out that 35 states reported overall decreases in enforcement personnel, so that even while states get better at using crash data to determine locations most in need of speed reduction, enforcers may not be available to target these dangerous areas.

Those “staffing decreases” by the way are attributed to budget cuts, military deployments and the existence of other overtime shift assignments that are more desirable than speed enforcement, GHSA noted in its report.

To address the challenges of speeding-related fatalities, the group is making two recommendations to states and three NHTSA.

  1. States should: Explore addressing speed concerns through aggressive driving enforcement, since the public believes that aggressive driving is a more serious threat to safety; and target speed enforcement in school and work zones, as this approach has a higher degree of public support and is largely viewed as non-controversial.
  2. NHTSA should: Sponsor a national high-visibility enforcement campaign and support public awareness efforts to address speeding and aggressive driving; promote “best practices” in automated enforcement strategies; and sponsor a national forum on speeding and aggressive driving similar to efforts undertaken in 2005 to bring experts together to develop an action plan and share tools and best practices.

One good thing came out of this report, Costales noted: using data-driven speed enforcement can potentially make a serious dent in these fatality figures.

“While the findings of the report are generally disappointing, it is encouraging to see promising approaches such as the ‘Target Zero Team’ project in Washington State,” he pointed out. “Targeting speeders with data-driven enforcement and innovative educational efforts, speed-related fatalities were reduced by almost 45% over the previous five-year average. As our report describes, states can make real progress if speed is addressed in this manner.” 


It is perhaps also supremely ironic and very sad to note that, as I compiled this post today, I learned that Dr. Jeffrey Augenstein - a pioneer in the realm of treating accident and combat-related trauma and who also helped lead to critical changes in vehicle airbag deployment speed to save lives - died unexpectedly this week. He will be sorely missed.

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