Daily Editorial: Lowering the speed limit | VailDaily.com

Daily Editorial: Lowering the speed limit

Vail Daily Editorial
Vail CO, Colorado

Americans typically don’t respond well to government restricting them in any way, but a recent study making the case for some lowered speed limits in Eagle County is something to be ignored, literally, at our own peril. Put simply, driving slower reduces traffic accidents, injuries and deaths while saving money, improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But we hate to slow down, don’t we? It’s all too easy, with most cars, to apply just the slightest bit more pressure to make that speedometer needle move up and get us to our destination just a little bit sooner. And while that may be true, the reality is that a little more conservative approach on the gas pedal ” be it self- or government-regulated ” yields some impressive results: One study by Ford showed that decreasing speed from 70 mph to 60 mph saves nearly 20 percent on fuel consumption, with a commensurate decrease in CO2 emissions. If you’ve got a vehicle that gets 20 mpg and drive an Eagle County-typical 1,200 miles per month and pay $3.50 per gallon in gas, that means your monthly fuel bill could drop from $210 to $168.

If that’s not enough of a reason, consider this: Speeding is a factor in nearly one-third of all fatal crashes, a total of just over 13,000 fatalities in 2004 in the U.S. Locally, the 75 mph stretch between Edwards and Dotsero has a death rate higher than the 60-65 mph stretch between Vail and Avon.

Even if the limit is lowered, plenty of us will still race along at 80 or 90 mph regardless of weather, traffic or presence of law enforcement. The cops can’t catch us all, but in the interest of making the roads safer and the air just a little bit cleaner for everyone, perhaps fear of getting a ticket shouldn’t be the only thing that guides our behavior behind the wheel.

” Alex Miller for the Editorial Board

The bad news is that Eagle County’s nannies want to drop the speed limit on Interstate 70 between Eagle and Edwards. The good news is that probably won’t happen.

The interstate through our valley is run by the state, under federal guidelines. Which means any request for a speed limit change will probably face the “85th percentile” test, the end result of which is that 85 percent of motorists drive at or below the posted limit.

If the Colorado Department of Transportation follows its own rules, the speed limit probably won’t drop. Even if it did, at least one study indicates the change won’t do much good.

The National Motorists Association’s Web site (speedtrap.org) links to several scholarly and government studies about the effects of raising and lowering speed limits. Here are a couple of pertinent findings from a 1996 study by the Federal Highway Administration.

– Raising or lowering speed limits by 5 mph in the study area affected travel speed by less than 1 mph.

– Whether or not people obey speed limits is a function of whether those limits closely reflect driver behavior. In other words, in areas where most motorists travel at or below the speed limit, compliance is due to realistic speed limits, not an enforced change of behavior.

The fact of the matter is that most of the fatal accidents on I-70 through our valley are the result of alcohol, driving too fast for conditions, or simply not paying enough attention.

Modern cars with moderately attentive drivers can safely travel at or near the posted speed limit on that stretch of highway on any clear day. Dark, elk-filled nights and blizzards are different, of course.

Let’s try more rigorously enforcing the laws we have ” and consider making the Edwards-to-Eagle stretch a “fines doubled for speeding” zone ” before running to Denver for a change in the speed limit.

The rest of us need to do our part, too. Relax behind the wheel, pay attention to what you’re doing, and for heaven’s sake, stay sober.

” Scott Miller for the Editorial Board

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