Why Do People Speed?

You know the little kid who tugs on the kindergarten teacher’s sleeve every time another kid breaks a rule and gets away with it while the other kids behave? That was me. Most kids have a keen sense of fairness; mine was in a way-elevated percentile.

I’ve lightened up a little bit. Ask my friends, some of whom are kindergarten teachers. But one thing I just don’t get.

Why do so many people think it’s O.K. to speed?Speeding

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gathers many kinds of data about driving, speed, and accidents. And although their data suggest that speeding is done mostly by males under 30, every day I see a broad spectrum of ages (and both genders) pumping through 35 mph zones at 50. Oh, I know; even talking about this instantly converts me into Dean Wormer. We all push the line from time to time; there’s supposed to be a five-to-eight mph unofficial leeway in highway driving, right?

But that’s not the kind of speeding I’m talking about. I mean a solid 10 to 20 mph above the posted limit, in normal conditions, on urban and suburban arteries — you know, the roads you take to go some distance, with limits of 35 or 45. Let’s remember, speed limits are the law, and they’re the fastest you can go in perfect driving conditions. The reason so many people bust the limit is that it’s hard to catch them all. The percentages favor the speeder. On any given road, there is probably not a cop around. The law-breakers win; the law-abiding with children in the car worry.

“There are no accidents,” says my nephew, a Pennsylvania state trooper, “only crashes.” He’s right; it’s hard to call a crash accidental when it was reckless behavior that led to it. And many crashes are speed-related, according to IIHS data. In 2011, for example, nearly 10,000 deaths, almost a third of all U.S. traffic fatalities, resulted from speed-related crashes. Recklessness, defined as proceeding without regard to safety or the consequence of one’s actions, is far outside the realm of the accidental.

Knowing all this, is the risk ever worth it, outside of some emergency? A five-mile stretch of road can be covered in a little more than eight and a half minutes at 35 mph. Raise the speed to 45, and you cut 1:50 off the trip. However, a crash at 45 into a car going 35 is like hitting a wall at their combined speed: 80. You’re more likely to lose control at 45 than 35.

For less than two minutes? Why? Don’t you rush enough in your life as it is?

Apparently no, for some people. I see a lot of drivers zipping by, and when I come up beside them at the next light (at which they simply had to wait longer), they look pissed. Probably hate their jobs. But dammit, they’re gonna get to work FAST!

Y’know, the odds often favor shoplifters too. There aren’t security cameras everywhere. You want to heist a bunch of bananas, you can probably do it. But most people don’t. Why? Because it’s against the law. Well, so is speeding. But lots of people do it. Why?

Because they want to, that’s why. That’s the only reason. Where my family’s safety is concerned, that’s not reason enough.♦

© 2013 Adam Barr

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One thought on “Why Do People Speed?

  1. Vince Cunningham says:

    Great blog Adam. I have this discussion with my 13-year old all the time. I have a car that is stupid fast, but I always set cruise control at the speed limit. We have the discussion of the people that pass us will be 30 feet in front of us at the stop light at the exit. Just trying to prep him. Oh, by the way, he won’t be getting my 420HP vehicle when he gets his driver’s license.

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