The Legal Examiner Mark The Legal Examiner Mark The Legal Examiner Mark search twitter facebook feed linkedin instagram google-plus avvo phone envelope checkmark mail-reply spinner error close
Skip to main content

Acting National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt on July 27, 2017, joined track, soccer, baseball, basketball and football coaches everywhere in emphasizing, “Speed kills.” shared the aphorism without giving it its usual metaphorical overtones while announcing his agency’s initial release of data from a safety study titled Reducing Speeding-Related Crashes Involving Passenger Vehicles. He and his team noted in a press release, “The study links speeding to 112,580 passenger vehicle highway crash fatalities between 2005-2014. To put that number in perspective, nearly the same number of people – 112,948 – died in alcohol-involved crashes in the same period.”

Passenger vehicles include cars, motorcycles, pickup trucks, minivans, SUVs and passenger vans. The NTSB and other federal agencies have long called attention to the dangers of heavy trucks and buses going too fast. The new report focuses on the smaller vehicles that people are most likely driver and get hit by.

CBS This Morning further quoted Sumwalt on the need for the shift in attention: “Every mile an hour that you increase by, you’re increasing your likelihood of a crash, This study showed that we can improve the way that we set speed limits and enforce speed limits.”

NTSB’s principal recommendations for enhancing enforcement center around the idea of automating the process. Proposals include putting up speed limit signs that display vehicle speeds in relation to posted limits, authorizing speed cameras that trigger the issuing of tickets like red light cameras, and, down the line, using radar or laser technology called LIDAR to track vehicle travel time from one location to another. Under the last system, arriving at a destination much sooner than would be expected when sticking to the speed limit would result in a speeding ticket.

Safety officials believe drivers and police must pay more attention to speeding because both exceeding a posted speed limit and driving too fast for conditions reduce reaction time and increase stopping time. Speeding also raises the force of impacts, worsening injuries and raising fatalities — especially for pedestrians.

The problem will not be easy to solve. Decades of data compiled by speed-recording signs and radar gun-wielding officers in Fairfax County, Virginia (VA), indicate that the average driver exceeds the speed limit by 7-8 mph at any given time. Speaking with CBS, the county’s police captain, Michael Grinnan, said, “We’re looking at where [speed-related] accidents occur and how we change people’s behaviors in terms of speeding and driving more safely. I think the biggest way to do that is just by being present out there.”

As experienced Carolina personal injury and wrongful death attorneys, my colleagues and I did not need this reminder from the NTSB. Every day we speak with clients who suffered injuries or lost a family member to a driver who ignored a speed limit or refused to slow down in bad weather, a construction zone, or while approaching a stoplight. We do hope drivers get the message NTSB is sending.


One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Joe

    NTSB Wants to Turn Our Highways into a For-Profit Police State

    by Gary Biller, NMA President (for NMA blog)

    Why does the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) want to change its goal of providing legitimate highway safety research into an advocacy of ever-present, for-profit enforcement aimed primarily at safe drivers who are endangering no one?

    In a sweeping set of recommendations from its July 25, 2017 public meeting, the NTSB threw down a draconian gauntlet: More point-to-point tracking of vehicles via speed cameras, abolishment of the long-accepted engineering principle from the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices of setting speed limits based on normal traffic flow, and an increase in the hundreds of millions of dollars of federal (read: taxpayer-funded) grants that are divvied out among the states to run year-round ticketing campaigns.

    The NTSB wants to reduce traffic fatalities by slowing traffic down. Why the heavy-handed approach based on a false premise?

    The NTSB has perpetuated the myth that that nearly one-third of fatalities on the nation’s highways are speeding-related. “Speeding-related” is an interesting term. It is intended to signify that speed may have been a factor in an accident, although not necessarily the primary cause. Speeding-related as defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also does not necessarily mean that the vehicles involved in a fatal crash were exceeding the posted speed limit. has done some excellent reporting on this topic by digging into the statistics of NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database while also reviewing state annual highway safety reports that are submitted to qualify for NHTSA grants. In a 2012 report, TheNewspaper found that “. . . of the 2.7 million traffic accidents recorded in twenty-five states over the course of a year, only 1.6 percent were caused by drivers who exceeded the posted speed limit.”

    Those results are remarkably similar to those found by a government study conducted in the United Kingdom some years ago. The UK Department for Transport found that just two percent of accidents among drivers over age 25 were caused by exceeding the speed limit.

    Most recently, TheNewspaper reviewed FARS crash data from 2015 – the latest available from NHTSA – and found that, of the 48,613 drivers involved in fatal accidents across the country that year, seven percent were reported to be exceeding the speed limit at the time of the crash. Seventy-seven percent were deemed not to be engaged in speeding-related actions.

    The NTSB is greatly exaggerating the speeding issue and its effect on road safety. The agency favors expensive and intrusive highway surveillance combined with lower posted speed limits that will have little effect on normal traffic speeds. Meanwhile the lower speed limits get, the more crashes that are classified as speeding-related. And where the limits are set so low as to be violated by nearly all drivers – an all-too-common occurrence – all crashes will end up being called speed-related. We have just described a self-perpetuating revenue-generating machine, one that will fine drivers for every misstep, real or imagined.

    The NMA’s solution for improved highway safety, as spelled out in this letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, is to take government funds that are currently sponsoring high-visibility enforcement campaigns and redirect them toward improving driver education programs, optimizing speed limits to smooth out traffic flow, and paying for much-needed state road construction projects.

    Do we want a government that is constantly monitoring and penalizing every perceived driver indiscretion primarily to generate enforcement profits? That is what we’ll have unless drivers en masse condemn proposals like that from the NTSB to their federal and state elected officials. Join the NMA in doing just that while also lobbying for safety based on sound engineering and improved driving conditions.

Comments are closed.

Of Interest