WASHINGTON — Slow down.
So says the Governors Highway Safety Association, which is flashing its figurative red lights over speeding on the nation’s roads, saying that “little progress has been made in reducing the proportion of speed-related crashes.”
Although the number of crashes that involved speeding has dropped — along with overall traffic deaths — speeding continues to be a factor in about one-third of traffic deaths, a new report from the highway safety group says. The problem stands in contrast to progress in nearly every other area of highway safety.
Since 2000, the share of traffic fatalities linked to speeding has increased 7 percent, while fatal crashes involving occupants not wearing seat belts declined 23 percent and alcohol-impaired fatalities dropped 3 percent, the report said. In 2010, the most recent year included in the report, 10,530 people died in speed-related crashes.
“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,” said the highway safety group’s chairman, Troy E. Costales.
Among the challenges in reducing speed-related traffic deaths: 78 percent of state highway offices surveyed by the group cited “public indifference to speeding” as the biggest obstacle. Another factor, the group said: cutbacks in 35 states to the number of officers assigned to speed enforcement.
The report expressed alarm that seven states — Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia — have raised speed limits on some roads “despite research showing that an increase in traffic deaths was attributable to raised speed limits” after the 1995 repeal of the national 55-mph speed limit. Texas has the highest speed limit in the country — 85 mph on stretches of rural highways.
But the National Motorists Association, founded to fight the national 55-mph speed limit, called the report flawed and the definition of “speed-related” purposely vague and misleading.
“The bottom line is that highways have never been safer,” John Bowman, a spokesman for the motorists group, said in an email. “The federal government’s own numbers show that fatality rates have been dropping steadily since 1995. And that’s with increased speeds on interstate and other highways.
“The study admits that speed-related fatalities have decreased; however, they continue to be about a third of total fatalities. With increased enforcement focused on non-speed-related factors, you would expect the proportion of speed-related accidents to go up, but it’s not. It’s flat and that’s actually positive news.”
The Governors Highway Safety Association is calling for greater efforts to combat speeding, including greater use of speed cameras and for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to sponsor a national forum on speeding and aggressive driving.
The report, in highlighting how long speeding has been a problem, included this trivia: New York cabdriver Jacob German in 1899 became the first driver arrested for speeding.
He was barreling down Lexington Avenue at 12 mph. The speed limit was 8 mph.