Rules of the Road

Not driving the speed limit? You could be paying a high price, one way or the other

Whatcom County law enforcement agencies will be is going to be conducting speeding emphasis patrols from Friday, Aug. 5, to Sunday, Aug. 7, to help increase safety on the roads.
Whatcom County law enforcement agencies will be is going to be conducting speeding emphasis patrols from Friday, Aug. 5, to Sunday, Aug. 7, to help increase safety on the roads. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Question: You say that the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task force has a vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030, but what exactly is being done to achieve that goal? Every day, as I drive around the county, I see worrisome traffic infractions, but I seldom see a police presence or “speed traps.” I am constantly harassed by aggressive drivers who seem to believe speed limits don’t apply to them or are just an annoyance. The recent spate of fatal accidents caused by irresponsible drivers is frightening. I know that at any time I could become a statistic. Isn’t it time to get tough with those people and send a message that driving is a privilege, not a right, and with that privilege comes responsibility and serious consequences for flouting the law?

Answer: Amen, preach it! Especially that last line about the responsibility that comes with driving privileges. Right now some of you are probably thinking I hired a shill to send in that question. I promise you, that one came in unsolicited. The writer was so passionate that I even had to edit it down from it’s original length, which addressed a multitude of traffic sins. But when a citizen pleads for a move toward responsible driving, I can’t ignore it.

The core of the question seems to focus on a willful disregard of traffic law, and in particular excessive speed. Despite the data that proves otherwise, I’ve encountered a lot of drivers who don’t think speeding is a big deal. For example, I recently visited a car dealership where the salesmanpointed out a car on the showroom floor and bragged about how smooth the ride is at 150 MPH on the freeway. He’s not the only person that has freely confessed to driving at more than double the speed limit.

Here’s the reality: in Washington speeding contributes to over a third of all traffic fatalities. In Whatcom County it’s even worse. From 2008 to 2015, 40 percent of all traffic fatalities in our county involved speeding. In real numbers, that’s 47 people killed on the roads in our county in the previous eight years due, at least in part, to speeding drivers. The only way I can comprehend that someone could think excessive speed is not a risk is if that person is living in an alternate universe. Instead, speeders think that somehow the risk doesn’t apply to them or that the “fun” of speeding outweighs the risks.

Why do people speed? They’re late, it makes driving more exciting, it’s a habit – pick your reason. Whatever the reason, I’m willing to bet no one thinks, “I’m going to speed so that I can decrease my reaction time and increase the amount of damage if I get in a crash.” But those are two real results directly associated with speeding. Speeding can result in exceeding the human ability to respond to an unexpected situation and the mechanical ability of the vehicle to avoid it. Also, vehicle speed is a major factor in survivability of a crash.

We’ve looked at the data and confirmed that speeding is risky, but really, we already knew that. The real question asked above is, “Isn’t it time to get tough?” I’d love it if when I told people about risky driving behavior, everyone decided to become better drivers. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t conform to my wishes. Many drivers obey the law because they know it’s safer to drive by the rules. For those who need extra motivation, local law enforcement is going to be conducting speeding emphasis patrols from Friday, Aug. 5, to Sunday, Aug. 7. Officers from multiple agencies will be working together to stop speeders and write tickets to violators. For the speeders out there reading this, you’ve been warned.

Traffic safety is a complex issue with many factors that include driver training, social attitudes, laws, enforcement, road engineering, vehicle condition and more. I know one weekend of extra enforcement isn’t going to solve all our traffic safety problems. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Road Rules is a regular column on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices. Doug Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force. Target Zero is Washington’s vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. For more traffic safety information visit TheWiseDrive.com. Ask a question.

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