THE NHTSA DEBACLE
AKA: the Federal Agency of Urban Myth! Pick any NHTSA program or claim, any at all. It will not survive a detailed examination. Their data is always misleading, politically rather than factually correct, or organized to garner large numbers viz. unrelated to the issue data or by simply excluding all unfavorable data.
What’s worse, they continue to spend significant amounts of public money spearheading a movement to undermine sound engineering practices. They now control content and funding (FHWA traffic safety research oversight) and WILL NOT let any project go forward unless it will produce a forgone conclusion that supports its agenda. A few years ago they went so far as to try to divert the funds used to support the most successful traffic engineering safety measure ever, barrier installation and hazard removal, for their own use.
This topic is contentious and many wonder why it is here. We pride ourselves as a free and fair society, this agency’s practices does not speak well of what our republic has done to us, its citizens, in the name of highway safety.
The unintended consequences of well meaning people is how this all began. In 1966, Congress passed a momentous law that required public safety issues to be based on findings of fact and uniformly applied across the land; The Highway Safety Act of 1966. The law included the authority for a new agency, NHTSA; who was charged with safety on our nation’s highways as its prime directive.
Eight short years later, Congress turned this agency into a propaganda arm of the government in support of its mandated National Speed Limit, where they “knew what was best for the people” despite the fact that their good intentions were contrary to human nature, advancing technology and the findings of the safety engineers.
After 20 plus years, the US Congress had spent many billions in this ill-fated endeavor, at an enormous cost to the nation. We the People became hostages of this power play to maintain control over the states. Congress used large amounts of cash to keep officials within the states in line. To further support this endeavor, its state run propaganda agency was funded with billions to establish an Urban Myth that equated lower speed limits with safety. Congress spent many billions more building an enforcement industry dependant on NHTSA in many was for its very existence. This force continues on today writing an estimated 40-50 million unsupported citations a year. A for cash and power Empire, not safety!
As an example of this empire building at the state level, here are the numbers for Nevada. Keep in mind Nevada’s safest period was when the fewest number citations were issued prior to a stricter speed laws that went into effect in the fall of 1995.
In 1973, the NHP annual budget without speed limits was approximately 3 million a year. Despite the large number of rural highway miles, its fatality rate was below average. With limits its fatality rates are among the highest in the nation. Following the repeal of the NMSL and the $5 wasting fuel fine, the NHP budget grew to between 30 and 40 million to operate a state run cash machine. The legislatures primary stated reason in 1995 for keeping the speed limits, was concerns for the cash shortfall the removal would create.
The amount of money these programs generated for the beneficiaries of this enterprise is astounding. Each court sets its own fine schedule and it is common for citations to be in the $300-400 dollar range. Nevada’s unadulterated kangaroo traffic courts do everything possible to garner a conviction, including threatening violators with jail if they try to plead not guilty. Legal in Nevada because speed citations are misdemeanor, up to $1,000 fine and 6 months in jail.
Their courts literally operate off the fines they collect. The Las Vegas judiciary lobbied the 2001 legislature for a program to cut down on the accused rights, with an actual stated goal of streamlining the fine collection process. Every small town next to the interstate or a primary highway has built themselves a brand new courthouse, nicest buildings in town. Carson City was able to build a Taj Mahal of courthouses, Reno too. In fact, in one very small town, one Judge who was so interested in safety he bought his own radar for the use in his town of 200 (Mina). How does a town of 200 in the middle on nowhere pay a Judge and run a court with staff? Another Judge called the NHP office demanding that they write more tickets in his district (Stateline). The food chain is in place, and anything that threatens it is anti-safety. Including an effort by the FHWA offering federal grant money to raise limits on a rural section of highway. A phone call from that town’s local judge to the head of NDOT and the NHP killed that too; excerpt below.
Test canceled prior to start: “The site selected for field testing will be on US 395, south of Gardnerville, NV, with testing scheduled to begin third quarter of 1997. The posted speeds will be raised from 55 to 65 and 70 mph (85th percentile level). The Nevada Highway Patrol will conduct strict enforcement during the testing. The treatment area will avoid raising limits in a residential and Indian reservation in the area. That area will remain posted at 55 mph and will be used as a control.
So it’s safety and not the money you say? The National Motorists Association was instrumental in passing a law in Texas that said no entity could derive more than 30 percent of its income from speed citations; and any excess money went to the state. The good news, as a result of this law the state foreclosed on Kendleton, TX for moneys owed, thereby causing it to file bankruptcy. This town of 5,000 also was forced to fire its police force of 15 officers that worked US 59.
The bad news, these small towns were sacrificed so everybody could say they are good guys, and these towns are anomalies. The truth, these sacrifices protected the larger enterprise that is endemic throughout the entire government infrastructure of every state. Because every state has embraced the NHTSA lower speeds equates to safety myth for profit. Montana is just getting started 27 years late. Not to worry, because of the nature of the process it will appear to become very profitable for you too. Maybe not!
There is another side effect of this citation industry, which after 30 years is raring its ugly head. Most of this cash that has been collected was spent long ago, and the trier of fact is under new added pressures. Every citation is now a critical capital resource that a not guilty verdict would lose. This surely assures a fair trial?
What are we talking about, what pressures? The officers, agency support staff, judges, clerk staff etc. that worked in these enterprise were government employees. These local entities have taken on substantial long-term capital exposure in new buildings and overhead and now the first 30 years of employees are retiring or have retired. In order to keep themselves above water, all these enterprises are raising the price of citations because they have to pay their current commitments, as well as their on going and increasing long term obligations. Most expensive routine citation this year a member asked for help on - $1.400.
That’s why red light cameras, photo radar are so desirable and coveted; greater numbers with much lower long-term liabilities. A ready cash source to pay off the older obligations the former citation efforts created. What Congress viz. NHTSA has created here is an insidious Government run Pyramid Scheme, a massive government enterprise that must grow to survive, and it only has you to feed on.
The following is another example of living proof that it’s Safety, not the Money? The following UK group was a featured guest presenter at a recent TRB conference sponsored by NHTSA. The UK is ahead of the US in the application of technology in speed enforcement. This NHTSA presentation was a proposed model of how we too could take advantage this technology. In the following release the facade of safety is removed.
DAILY MAIL (London)
Washington DC this week successfully launched a US variant. A single officer was able to issue over 200 citations in a little over an hour. For the District of Columbia, the technology vendors have promised a total take $23,000,000 a year for the city. What does it matter that DC’s limits do not meet basic federal statutory requirements and are grossly under posted? Here is political cartoon from the August 8, 2001 issue of the Washington Times. It about says it all.
Cash, and lots of it is a powerful force. It appears that state officials in Montana couldn’t resist either.
Politically the word Safety has become synonymous with money, law and order and the political support of those on its dole or profit from it. This is why NHTSA has thrived despite the facts for 27 years. A law enforcement endorsement come election time is a powerful force indeed. Much more so than mere facts! Who cares that traffic engineers long ago (30, 40, 50 and more years ago) had conclusively proven that neither speed limits, nor their enforcement has any meaningful effect on traffic speeds and accident rates? Thus this lack of factual foundation is clearly why NHTSA resorted to fictitious reports complete with supporting PR campaigns. Exactly like Sony did to market it movies. Using the names of a real entity or issue, but a fictitious source where all its facts or quotes were invented or creatively altered to sell its program.
Likewise, here is another program that will not find its way into their reference materials. To their chagrin, here is this week’s headline. After a year of intense new enforcement efforts, like Montana, Connecticut ended with increased fatalities and accident rates. Providing another timely example of the fallacy of these programs.
August 1, 2001, Wednesday, BC cycle
Public Safety Commissioner Arthur Spada's very public crackdown on speeding has not reduced the number of wrecks on Connecticut highways, an Associated Press analysis of accident and ticket statistics finds.
NHTSA’s charter of protecting the citizens on the Nation’s highways was short lived; the following clearly shows how it metamorphosed almost immediately into an agency whose constituents were its own self interest first, then the enforcement agencies, courts, cities and insurance companies who profit from these enterprises. The NHTSA Traffic Law Enforcement division is largely staffed with officers on loan from their respective agencies learning how to write and administer enforcement grants, and coming up with new programs.
NHTSA "Traffic Law Enforcement" (TLE) Division?
The Traffic Law Enforcement Division anticipates and responds to the needs, and develops innovative products that law enforcement will seek and use to reduce traffic crashes, deaths, and injuries. This is accomplished by collaborating with law enforcement, prioritizing program delivery, marketing, expanding partnerships, and establishing new partnerships, technology, and research.
In support of the TLE Division, they have an ad agency that is contracted to aid in inventing crises, fund studies or institutions to produce forgone supporting results, launch press campaigns to build public consensus that something must be done, and then the need to intervene, the PR materials for launch, its time schedules and strategies. At launch, each agencies that signs up to participate is rewarded money, equipment and supplemental income opportunities for its officers - in exchange for writing tickets, manning road blocks et al.
Fear is their stock and trade and a tragic incident poster child is compulsory. All injuries and untimely deaths are tragic. But in highway safety issues, there is also a duty to present factual relative risk and real solutions. This agency is never restrained by facts, or the truth for that matter, they routinely manufacture data to support its programs and block from publication studies which findings to do not support its position. Many of its largest programs have been documented decades ago to not improve safety by the FHWA, ITE and AASHTO et al.
It has always been hard coming to grips with how this egregious behavior goes on unchecked. The answer is they’re the PR agency of the US DOT and a political tool of all Presidents and the Congress. A tool used to show that they care about safety, and are doing the nation’s business, and FHWA sound practices have been subordinated to this sacred political cow.
One of the FHWA studies was blocked from publication for 5 years by NHTSA, was finally approved for publication because the author agreed to change the conclusion to “raising and lowering the limit had no effect on accident rates”.
Notwithstanding, the researchers were allowed to leave the charts that showed accidents were reduced when limits were raised and conversely, lowering them too low increased accident rates.
1993 letter excerpts;
All speed change groups below had sites where accidents either increased, remained unchanged or decreased. The controversy? The aggregate of those test sites where the limits were raised had a measurable lower accident rates. This report became notorious and flew in the face of NHTSA’s propaganda campaign, those federal employees with copies were threatened with possible loss of job or personal sanctions if any more copies got out.
Long after the repeal of the NMSL, NHTSA finally relented and allowed this FHWA sponsored study to be released with no public notice. Even though the agency effectively black balled the lead researcher from future federal research projects, in 1999 NHTSA did use the untrue as used statement “no effect on accident rates” they demanded be included, in the TRB report. Notice the 084, the last number of the study. That was the contract start date; NHTSA was able to delay its publication until 1996.
With the repeal of the National Speed Limit in 1995, its number one program, the enforcement of the National Speed Limit was for all practical purposes terminated. Knowing this was going to be the case, during the debate in Congress they used every scare tactic they could. Stating unequivocally that another 6,400 additional death will surely occur, using terms like body bags, while at the same time blocking the publication of FHWA studies that showed increasing the limits to reasonable levels posed no risk and was in fact safer. Part of the fear mantra materials they distributed to Congress and the press, later became the excerpt in this letter from MDT that came from the information provided the legislature.
“The higher the speeds, the more severe the injuries. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, chances of death or serious injury at impact double for every 10 mph over 50 mph a vehicle travels (NHTSA Fact Sheet, December 1995).”
Despite its shrill predictions of catastrophic results, after the repeal and the limits were raised, the nations fatality rate continued unfazed on its historic decline. Not to be deterred, they immediate launched a series of scare campaigns using any slogan that they thought might gain traction in the press and with the public. Congress had just allocated another billion dollars over the next 5-year period and they desperately needed new justifications to protect their importance as an agency, jobs and personal interests.
In this endeavor they immediately opened a second front, they sponsored a Transportation Research Board effort with a stated objective of discrediting accepted engineering practices. Complete with dubious NHTSA studies and other such materials mixed in; SPEEDING AND HIGHWAY SAFETY: US DOT, POLICY AND IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGY: February 1997. The TRB has been used before to undermine sound practices and/or to formulate political correct findings. In part, it was successful this time too. The NMA participated in these TRB speed panel break out groups. They included NHTSA sponsored (expenses paid to be there) activist judicial members who felt zero tolerance to any law no matter its foundation was the answer; and enforcement agency personnel who make their living from these programs to dilute the input from the traffic safety engineering community.
Next NHTSA’s ad agency even changed the name of “Accidents” to “Crashes”, because they felt the term Crashes can be inferred to be preventable, and the term Accident didn’t portray that meaning. Take notice that all releases now use the term Crashes.
National Crisis after crisis to keep itself in the headlines! While they took credit for the traffic safety and automotive engineering efforts that have brought our fatality rates down to all time lows despite NHTSA’s interference. Here is as short list of some of these public enemy number one programs they tried. We had speed kills, road rage, inattentive driving and cell phone use (work in progress), aggressive driving, red lights, drunk driving, fatigue and sleep deficit and many more, all being 50% or more of the cause of accidents.
When does someone do the math? There is only ONE hundred percent. The distribution of the cause accident is quite diverse and most are simply just accidents with innumerable causes.
As with all its campaigns, the operative word is always RELATED. Justification to grossly inflate numbers by including completely unrelated accidents to its stated claims. Here are a couple examples.
When the US DOT launched its “RED LIGHT” campaign several years ago, NHTSA headlined 2,800 deaths a year related to this problem. Go back and look at the first releases! In this case “related”, is “intersection accidents”, yet only 25–30 percent of those where at signalized intersections. Meaning, 70-75 percent of the accidents quoted where were there are no lights to run. Even the low number left were for all causes and even today they have no idea how many were caused by motorists intentionally running a red light. Further, they made no mention of the fact that 50 percent of these accidents and more could be eliminated if cities would just follow sound engineering practices. Documented by AAA study in Michigan and by others. These engineering safety measure produce no revenue or enforcement jobs, they only reduces accidents, counter to this agency’s self interest.
To this day, they steadfastly advocate more cameras while fighting sound practices. Too many examples and this is not the topic, so here are just a few highlights: San Diego in 18 months made 6.8 million off a single intersection; when records show only one red light accident in the last 7 year there. At one of the worst red-light running intersections in the nation where a camera was located, after constant haranguing by the NMA, VDOT finally relented to applying prescribed engineering practices. They added 1.5 seconds to the yellow and the intersection went from one of the worst to 1 violation a day, a 96% drop in violation. This whole controversy is articulated at Dick Armey’s website. http://freedom.house.gov/auto/rlcreport.asp
When you examine its justification for Speed Enforcement, you see very high percentages being quoted, again ranging from 30 to 50 percent, depending on the release. No matter who examines the data, be it the CATO Institute that issued a blistering report saying this was a fraud on the Nation, or in the below article in USA today showing why NHTSA’s claims never add up. This USA piece also has a few interesting Montana stats too.
As part of its Speed Management plan to slow us down from the everyday speeds we drive on our highways, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has put out a "Fact Sheet" which says the 1993 fatality rate on the German autobahn, famous for no speed limits, "was almost six times that of the U.S. interstate." Baloney. The two rates were identical that year, and have been similar since 1984.
As you can clearly see, speed related is not speed caused and even the speed caused numbers are suspect.
Speed related vs. highway patrols? Of the 41,600 fatalities quoted in the NHTSA's press releases, which includes all causes, only 4 - 6 percent of these occurred on interstate highways and only 1 - 3 percent of those at most were caused by excessive speed. Nevertheless, the interstate system carries 20 percent of the Nations traffic volume.
This means that nationally, deaths caused by excessive speed on the interstates numbers is in the low hundreds at most, not thousands, and most rural states don’t have a single such fatal accident many months of each year.
This includes Montana, because on your interstates you reported months with no fatal accidents whatsoever - for all causes. In early conversations with MDT, you were 4 or 5 months into no speed limits and your safety office hadn’t recorded a single fatality on any rural highway attributed to no daytime speed limits. Did you record one this first year at all; or was it in the next year? Not a single incident was brought up in MDT conversations. Regretfully we failed when we didn’t track this separately. At most, in all the years of no daytime limits the count could be done on one hand. Montana probably had more deaths from bee stings.
Public enemy number one for the nation’s highway patrols, fatal accidents by the thousands for every cause except speed on the open highway during light traffic conditions. It does happen, but they are rare events. Its surely not public enemy number one caliber; as the cornerstone of every NHTSA program, garnering 70 percent and more of the highway patrol assets being primarily assigned to it.
Because of abuse of this agency, Congress passed a law forbidding it from lobbying state legislatures to pass new traffic laws. Its lobbying activity at the state level was curtailed except under prescribed conditions. NHTSA desperately wanted to launch its Aggressive Driving program, one that could take full advantage of the assets used in its repealed NMSL campaign viz speed enforcement. Because of it couldn’t directly lobby states to adopt this, they went through their traffic office to the state patrols. In this case they struck a deal with Arizona Department of Public Safety. If the ADPS lobbied successfully to get this law passed, NHTSA promised the agency cash, equipment and a guaranteed number of overtime hours for its officers. At a regional transportation conference the ADPS lieutenant charged with lobbying the legislature, outlined the whole program and its processes. Prior to this conversation, he put on a presentation sponsored by NHTSA to promote the program to other states.
Montana and its low fatal accident rates with no speed limits was an open wound in NHTSA’s objectives. Makes one wonder if they quietly offered anything to Montana like they did Arizona to get the speed limits instated. You surely can understand why one would be suspect and distrustful of this possibility.
In one report, it was reported that the act of pursuing this driver is 5 times more likely to result in an accident, than the vehicle being pursued. Because of this, many areas have banned high speed chases altogether. You have 140 MPH pursuit vehicles on almost every stop, making a cross traffic turn, and then exceeding a 100 mph to cite a motorist for doing 10-15 over an under posted limit. In some agencies the elite revenue divisions are issued 155 plus mph Z28 Camaros for this same task. Further, the act of making a stop or being located on the side of a roadway is in itself extremely hazardous. This results in many additional unnecessary deaths and serious injuries. The CHP alone has lost close to 200 officers, largely to these causes. This may partially explain why in virtual every scientifically conducted before and after study, concentrated enforcement areas have higher incident rates.
Relevant examples that come to mind, an officer enforcing an under posted limit, flipped a u-turn to chase a “speeder” traveling at a safe speed (45 in 35 zone), and crashed head-on into young couple on vacation, killing the fiancée and severely injuring the boyfriend. During a simple stop to check the tags on a borrowed trailer, a friend’s vehicle was rear-ended and he died at the scene. Also this year on one section of highway, 10 miles apart, 2 officers have been hit and killed while “doing their jobs” (traffic stops). In a side note during the coverage of the latest officer’s funeral, they reported a car had hit a Sheriff’s deputy during a speed citation stop on another local roadway. Last month there was another reported fatal accident, the person upon rounding a curve saw an officer working radar, he braked and was rear-ended by the car following, sending him into the median where he was killed. The agency adamantly claimed they had no responsibility for the accident, and just because the motorists braked because of the fear of a speed trap, was irrelevant.
People routinely die and are severely injured from traffic enforcement independent of any other reason, flags are not flown half-staff for the innocent mothers, fathers, sweethearts and children that are killed. If it’s not a compelling safety reason, we shouldn’t be risking anyone’s life.
Breaking news in this regard, the California Supreme court ruled 8/2001 that if someone is injured as the result of a traffic stop, the officer can be held personally responsible and can be sued.
The big and most relevant question: What effect does enforcement of speed limits really have on accident rates? In virtually every peer reviewed and verified study these programs have had NO positive cause and effect. This is easy to explain and becomes very troublesome when you extend the implications. For the last 30 years this has been the primary function of virtually every state highway patrol in the nation. Representing in some cases 70 percent and more of its primary asset assignments. Resulting in an astounding 40-50 million speed citations annually, with no safety benefit? And today, it remains the cornerstone of almost every NHTSA justification for special enforcement funding? This does not speak to the lost respect and status of the state patrols as friend of the motorist. From protect and serve to one of distrust and a widely held belief that they are there to prey on motorists to garner revenue.
Let’s now examine speed enforcement and why it has no positive effect. High technology is largely responsible for this enforcement -vs.- safety dichotomy. Ultimately, enforcement agencies are judged and rewarded on the number of citations issued and the productivity per man-hour, rather than desired end result of safer highways.
Speed enforcement always drifts toward those locations that have the highest speeds rather than the highest accident rates. Simply, it easier to write tickets en mass at these locations where there is a virtual 0 percent accident rate caused excessive speed. Why is it zero? Because higher speeds are found where higher speeds are safe and the vehicles traveling faster than the average also have the lowest accident involvement rates. The fact that higher speeds are found is a good indication relative risk is low.
Years ago these speed traps were called “Duck Ponds”. Allegory: Game warden is issued shotgun and ordered to go kill a rogue fish at the local pond. He goes to the pond and fires his shotgun several times, and all he hits are ducks. He reports his failure to superiors. Immediately, they issue him a new shotgun with a larger magazine, and reassign him to the new Duck Patrol - Special Enforcement Team.
Since the 70’s studies on the effects of the 55 mph limit documented speed enforcement has no long-term effect on speeds or accident rates. The presence of a police vehicle only temporarily slows traffic regardless if they’re writing a citation or not. Traffic immediately returns to the speed they are most comfortable with as soon as the threat is perceived to be gone.
In terms of accident risk, there is a direct correlation between accident rates and flow conflict points - converging highways and interchanges. The accident rates at these locations are primarily a design question regarding methods used to allow traffic to egress and ingress into the stream or converge. If they are too close to each other, rates increase exponentially. Once the traffic stream clears these conflict points, accident rates drop precipitously.
The speed of traffic is self-regulating, flow becomes uniform as congestion increases and the speed of traffic is not effected or influenced by posted speed limits nor are the nature and type of accidents that do occur.
Conversely, when the conditions become light, you do see increases in speed differentials, and during these light free-flowing periods, accidents for any reason drop to negligible rates. Also during these periods of the lowest risk is when the bulk of the citations are written which leads us to this safety conundrum. If a hundred percent of your assets are targeted a virtual zero cause – safest drivers, on the safest highways, on the sections where accidents for all reasons are low. You can’t escape the fact that sum of these efforts can never exceed zero effect.
Another very relevant factor is Montana’s highways have low volumes and long distances. Consequently, approximately 75 percent of the rural interstate accidents are single vehicle events. With weather, fatigue and other physiological human factors being the primary contributing factor, nothing to do with speed. In addition, remote highways mean long times before meaningful help can be rendered. Therefore when compared on a National chart of death rates per million miles driven, states like Montana will always report higher death rates than states with high density, shorter trip distance urban highways that also have immediate trauma response assets.
Urban conditions are used as the baseline because risk is highest there. Montana’s highways are virtually free of these hazards, so risk is low. Applying the urban risk numbers to the most accredited relative risk bell curve (Cirillo) tells an interesting story. This curve was based on urban interstate research during off peak hours. It found the safest speed to be the mean plus 12 mph, and when charted on the graph the safest speeds extended up to the mean plus 18-20 mph. The design speed of a flat straight highway is infinity and with the low traffic volumes on rural highways, the safest speeds are much greater.
The current automotive mean on most rural interstates is 75 mph, and applying the urban interstate relative risk curve: the safest speed would be 87; the vehicles least likely to be involved in an accident are those traveling between 75 and 93-95 mph. Translated, the overwhelming numbers of speeding citations are issued to the safest drivers.
The “Montana Paradox” referred to data from other areas where traffic speeds were much higher with low limits, than Montana was recording with no limits. Each CHP division office in Southern California has more officers than the entire state of Montana, and all areas referenced are posted with 65-mph speed limits. Add to this the fact, the CHP alone writes an amazing million speed citations each year with no effect on speeds. These high volumes of citations have been going on for decades.
When the California raised it limits from 55 to 65 on these freeways, accidents rates dropped while citations rates continued with no apparent effect either way. Motorists did show greater due caution and lane courtesy with slower traffic moving right more often. In our opinion, it is the primary the reason for this drop in fatality rates. In regards to the posted limits, with the old limits virtually 100% of the free-flowing automotive traffic was exceeding the limit in most areas, now its only 100% exceeding the limit in most areas. The speed limit signs do nothing more than occupy space.
Let’s now look at the speed data from Southern California. Caltrans has placed flow-monitoring stations on all its major freeways at every major interchange. At many of these locations, the data was available to the public live via the Internet. In addition to reporting the average speed, in the past they you could get the details of this aggregate in a separate by-travel-lane live report with a history of the last 20 to 30 postings.
The average speed during light traffic conditions at some locations consistently ranged 10-15 miles over the posted limit, and at times it is 20 plus mph over with volumes up to, and greater than, 6,000 vehicles per hour. This goes on unabated by ever-ominous enforcement (large numbers, new stealthier vehicles, new fleet of high speed motorcycles, aircraft, radar, etc, millions and millions from NHTSA) and millions of citations. For reference, many of Montana’s highways never see this much traffic in a day. The detailed reports routinely registered number 1 and 2 lanes average speeds with what would be considered bumper-to-bumper traffic, up to and over 90 mph, day after day. In addition, the CHP is reporting record numbers of its citations for speed in excess of 100 mph with no corresponding increase in accidents.
What is wrong here? Traffic has found its own speed and no matter how many citations are written or what efforts have been brought bear to stop this over the last 27 years. Speeds are up and accidents are down. On the whole, the officers are doing nothing more than merging into the flow, picking a victim and writing the citation. After decades, this enforcement program has become an institutionalized sum zero safety benefit, but garners critical acclaimed because of the funds it generates.
As an illustration of how different an engineers’ safety perspective is when it is compared to NHTSA and state enforcement agency public positions. Here are excerpts from a speech by Julie Ann Cirillo. The highway safety researcher quoted throughout this paper, whose findings are still valid today. In her new position she gave this speech to the same effect.
In an interview in the June/July, 1999 issue of LANDLINE, the magazine of O.O.I.D.A., Julie Cirillo, new program manager at the FHWA Office of Motor Carriers and Highway Safety, said,
The Interstate curve in this Transportation Research Board chart is from Cirillo’s work.
Looking at the California data from an engineering and safety perspective, the flow at many times of the day is in the mid 80’s and at times into the low 90’s; therefore the 100 mph speeds would still be in the safest range on these urban interstates and there would not be an increase in accidents, speeds may be higher, but it supports Cirillo’s risk curve finding. MDT reported a limited amount of vehicles at these speeds. California reports thousands per hour with reduced accident rates. People in many areas simply drive faster than Montanans, but if they’re doing so safely there is nothing to fear, as demonstrated in Montana. Despite your like finding, you recorded your lowest number of fatal accidents on effected highways.
The fatal flaw in this Speed Kills Urban Myth NHTSA spent billions your tax dollars creating, with its own loyal army of federal aid dependent mercenaries and their 40-50 million citations a year. The above referenced risk chart graphically shows the folly of these programs. In the CHP illustrations, the 65 mph limit represents –10 on the TRB chart. Even if they raised the limit to 75 (0=mean) it wouldn’t change the fact that they still would be primarily targeting the safest drivers. Therefore, their enforcement is clearing targeting the safest drivers during the safest times of the day; sum zero effect from a safety perspective.
Further, if speed in itself is such catastrophic unsafe act, why is it our nation is at all time low rates with its highest ever reported speeds? California is reporting system wide on high-density highways, some of the highest speeds in the nation with reduced accident rates. Montana recorded it lowest fatal accident rate when you had no daytime limits; and what about the Autobahn that has consistent lower rates than comparable US highways.
If you are comfortable, use to the speeds, drive with measured response and are calm, you are at your safest. Each person finds his or her own personal comfort level, and safest speed to travel at. It changes as conditions change, you do slow down accordingly. The low number of fatal accident rates during the no daytime limit period in Montana supports this.
If you should ever attend an Intelligent Transportation Conference (ITS) this divergence becomes crystal clear. It was personified in one of the live demonstration. Through road sensors and onboard computers it had show attendees traveling in 6 to 8 vehicle queue clusters, at high speeds, on a real freeway with only half a car length between them.
Basic flow dynamics: the higher the speeds and density, the more throughput capacity of the highway. Accordingly, to improve safety and roadway capacity, one state DOT has actually planned for a Minimum 80 mph Limit starting point on a new HOV lane section, with the limit being raised incrementally to increase its efficiency.
The higher speeds and low accident rates found on California’s freeways are highly desirable. Caltrans has done everything possible it can to keep the flow at its optimum. During these periods all onramps are metered and all routine traffic enforcement is curtailed. The officers are essentially pulled of the highways so as not to disrupt the flow with their presence or activities. Accidents rates during these periods are very low too.
The insanity, when the commute hours are over, traffic is light and accident rates are at their lowest, this is when maximum enforcement is instituted. Writing vehicles for going the same speeds and for following too close when in fact, they’re farther apart and many times traveling slower than they were during commute hours. Again, these citations are being written to vehicles traveling at safest speed, on safest roads at the safest times of day. It clearly has no effect safety. They are enforcing speed limits set at an unbelievably low 0 – 10 percent range. A poster child how far NHTSA’s 30-year legacy has derogated the objective of traffic safety and its agencies.
The irony here is if they actually succeeded in slowing traffic, it would be disastrous to the highways system ability to move traffic. Dramatically extending the commute hours, increasing accidents and air pollution, while costing the economy untold millions daily in lost productivity and degrading the quality of life too.
People do act responsibly. Montana’s experience demonstrated to the nation that this remains true today. Prior to NHTSA, the Nation had many states with no speed limits like Montana. People went about their lives without a nanny state monitoring their every movement and they can again. Safely!
We should all be affronted when the state views its citizens as fair prey in a revenue scheme designed only to enrich itself. Pyramid schemes always appear like easy money, they are illegal because they are based on false promises.
In this case Montana fell victim to the false promises of safer highways, revenue and individual personal gains. In reality for this NHTSA Pyramid scheme to succeed, the state must keep expanding its justifications, thereby turning more and more of its citizens into prey to survive, while its citizens lose all respect for our laws and its institutions. A terrible price to pay!
As Montana expands its NHTSA supported programs, your agencies become surrogates dependent on this federal dole. These programs that provide the participants with income and agency growth, further empowers NHTSA to control “We The People”. Not only is safety sacrificed, we end up with analogies like: In the “Old West” we had “Highway Men”, in the “New West” it is a state run enterprise using federal aid dependent mercenaries, and we call them “Highway Patrol Men.” Not exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind.
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