Is It Possible to Slow Down?

You probably know my story—but if you don’t, click here, here, and here.

Last night, I was supposed to be meeting my musical comrade in arms. The two of us have a history that dates back to Lisbon High School and him patrolling the outfield behind me during our championship baseball season in 1979, when I was flinging the baseball real fast towards home plate. We also experienced two basketball seasons where we posted identical 1-17 seasons back-to-back.

Of all my friends from this era, Dave has remained as fixated (if not more so) about music (mainly rock) as I am. He listens to it, stays current, and since February, he’s been getting me out to shows more frequently.

Speaking of back-to-back, we saw The War on Drugs at Portland’s State Theater Monday night and last night, it was X. Dave almost didn’t make it, however.

Driving home from work in South Portland, he was rear-ended in Falmouth, along what’s become a notoriously dangerous stretch of I-295. The state has even lowered speed limits there as a way to prevent accidents.

The affected vehicle, a 1997 Saab convertible he calls Bambi II, was a nod to Dave’s penchant and vehicle preference. He had another similar vintage that he was planning to use as a parts car. However, last night’s crash means Bambi II is headed to the scrapyard.

Dave’s okay. He could have been killed. In fact, there was a fatality not long after an SUV plowed into the back of him, sending car and driver into the median and up against the guardrail on the opposite, southbound side.

I received his message just as I was parking in downtown Portland. He said he was fine and would be “riding in with Leo, meeting up at Port City in time for the show.

We know that ever-increasing speeds lead to accidents. Yet, some states are promoting driving faster.

Speed limits on roadways are determined by a careful process. There’s a history to setting them dating back 200 years. From The Methods and Practices of Setting Speed Limits: An Informational Report, rendered by the Federal Highway Safety Administration:

Speeding, commonly defined as exceeding the posted speed limit or driving too fast for conditions, is a primary crash causation factor across the globe. Based on a survey of road safety performance, speeding is the number one road safety problem in many countries, often contributing to as many as one-third of fatal crashes and serving as an aggravating factor in most crashes.2 According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), speeding-related crashes account for over 13,000 fatalities per year in the United States, making speeding one of the most often-cited contributing factors for fatal crashes.3

One of the most frequently used methods of managing travel speeds is the posted speed limit. The setting of speed limits predates the automobile by some 200 years, when Newport, Rhode Island, prohibited the horses galloping on major thoroughfares to prevent pedestrian deaths. Similarly, Boston, Massachusetts, limited horse-drawn carriages to “foot pace” on Sundays to protect church-goers.

The English Parliament is credited with setting the world’s first speed limit for mechanically-propelled vehicles in 1861.* At that time, the Locomotive Act (automobiles were considered “light locomotives”) limited the speed of all “locomotives” on public highways to 10 mph (16 km/h)-5 mph (8 km/h) through any City, town, or village.The Act was later amended to set speed limits of 4 mph (6 km/h) outside of towns and 2 mph (3 km/h) within them. These new operating speeds also required three operators for each vehicle—two traveling in the vehicle and one walking ahead and carrying a red flag to warn pedestrians and equestrians.5

Selecting an appropriate speed limit for a facility can be a polarizing issue for a community. Residents and vulnerable road users generally seek lower speeds to promote quality of life for the community and increased security for pedestrians and cyclists; motorists seek higher speeds that minimize travel time. Despite the controversy surrounding maximum speed limits, it is clear that the overall goal of setting the speed limit is almost always to increase safety within the context of retaining reasonable mobility.

The principal exception to the safety objective of speed limits was the oil crisis in the early 1970s, when speed limits were lowered as a means of conserving fuel. This rationale for lower speed limits was revived in Spain in early 2011, where the government lowered the maximum speed limit of 75 mph (120 km/h) to 70 mph (110 km/h) in an attempt to curb fuel consumption in the face of rising oil prices.6 However, the measure lasted only four months before the top speed limit was returned to the former 75 mph (120 km/h).

Maximum speed limits are laws; therefore, speed limits are set for the protection of the public and the regulation of unreasonable behavior on the part of individuals.
* This still predates the gasoline-powered automobile and was enacted for steam-powered vehicles.

Did you catch that? Speed limits exist for our protection. When you exceed them, you potentially put others and yourself in grave danger.

But everyone speeds, right? Not necessarily. It’s not even necessary to, but we’ve made driving beyond posted limits socially acceptable and fashionable.

Have you noticed car commercials? I can’t help it—most of them magnify the advertised vehicle’s capacity for speed and power, knowing that’s a lure for cultivating sales. In these days of climate change, why wouldn’t more people value cars that emphasize other aspects. Driving slower also conserves fuel.

Speeding is okay until you are directly affected by it. Sometimes, merely paying an excessive find is enough to slow you down (if you get caught). But more likely, nothing changes. Plus, every time you take to the roads—whether driving, or god forbid, walking or bicycling—you are forced to co-exist with the tens of thousands of scofflaws who routinely flaunt the rules of the road.

When someone you love is killed by the actions of a driver who violates the laws of the road, you are forever affected by it.

Since January 21, when Mark was killed, I’ve had a hard time co-existing with my fellow drivers. The further south you go, the worse it gets. Anecdotally, it seems like drivers from New Hampshire, and especially Massachusetts are notorious for driving well-beyond the posted limits. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island where we’ve traveled frequently since the first of the year (Mark lived in Providence and owned a home there), it’s not uncommon to have vehicles come up on you and swerve around you at speeds that I’m sure are approaching 90 miles an hour. Sometimes I think I want to hurt them. So far, I haven’t given into that urge.

Once I’m past the initial surge of adrenaline and anger, I check my own speed. I’m consistently driving under posted limits partly because the used car I bought a month ago incentivizes me to drive for fuel efficiency. I now know I couldn’t live with inflicting the kind of pain on another family like both my wife and I have had to bear since the driver in Florida  left her lane and hit Mark, walking legally along the paved shoulder.

If you can’t slow down for yourself, could you stop being such a narcissistic asshole and do it for others? Maybe you won’t end up killing or maiming someone in the future. That would really suck (I think) to have to live with that.

Dave’s okay. I’m thankful for that. Having lost a son and recently, a mother-in-law, I wasn’t ready to have to deal with losing one of my best friends.