Speed kills

By | April 22, 2007

Four teens were killed, and a fifth critically injured, in a single-vehicle car accident in Leicester last Friday night. The driver of the car was traveling at over twice the speed limit. The local high school principal was quoted in the paper as saying, “It’s not like they did anything wrong.” I just sent the following letter to several area newspapers:

To the editor:

Concerning the tragic, fatal car crash in Leicester, high school principal Tom Lauder said, “It’s not like they did anything wrong.” Unfortunately, he’s wrong… dead wrong.

The speed limit where the crash occurred was 30 mph. Police believe that the driver was traveling as fast as 70 mph, over double the limit.

To find out where teen drivers learn to speed, most parents need only look in the mirror. The majority of Massachusetts drivers ignore speed limits as a matter of course. Is it any surprise that their teen-aged children, who have watched their parents speed for 16 1/2 years, emulate their behavior?

The recent changes to the Junior Operator License law will do little to reduce tragic accidents, as long as adult drivers continue to perpetuate a culture of disregard for the rules of the road. Perhaps rather than showing teens in driver’s education classes videos of horrific accidents caused by speeding, the videos should be shown to their parents.


Jonathan Kamens

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15 thoughts on “Speed kills

  1. zoey


    let’s all be cool. Most teenagers don’t know how to be responsible and don’t usually think when they have other stuff to worry about.
    obviously, you must have, or are a kid and know how that is.

  2. smxlong

    Zoey… Your friend did not “need to make curfew.” If he had been late, some kids might have got in trouble with their parents or the cops. What he chose to do didn’t get people in trouble — it killed them.

    A person old enough to operate a vehicle should also be old enough to understand that the purpose of curfew is for safety — and speeding is definitely not safe. It was a dumb decision which tragically ended four people’s lives.

    Now, instead of a ticket, he has a nice casket to lie in.

  3. Zoey

    Well, i see many people have diffrent opinions on the matter of the car crash that killed a friend of mine.
    He was only going so fast so he could get everyone home on time.
    He wasnt under the influence, his friends wern’t pressuring him.
    He just needed to make curfew. Many people have diffrent veiws of what happened or stories. But, that’s the real deal.
    And what happened was tragic, he lost control and smashed into a tree.
    Killing himself and three friends one, lauren, left living but in critical condition. we need to teach future generations how to deal with peer pressure, and things like making curfew. Like would you rather go over the speed limit or miss curfew and just get a ticket. Ethier way you lose soemthing, but maybe it wont be thier lives.
    There’s a new generation comming into these new car seats wanting to have the experience, but we need to show them what will/might happen if they dont follow strictly to the law. I, myself is getting my permit in a few years and i dont want to be on the road if there is maniacs driving reckless.
    the driver of the car on 4-20 was reckless he just wanted to be responsible, but he didnt think that it might have taken his life.

    thank you,
    Zoey Zukowski, 14.

  4. jik Post author

    I just sent this letter to the Herald:

    (This letter is not for publication.)

    I want to thank you for printing my letter, and I want to thank you even more for the collection of articles you ran on Sunday, April 30 on this topic. As I’m sure you know, newspapers and other media outlets have a great deal of influence over public opinion, and I truly think that this issue is one where it’s incredibly important for you to use your “bully pulpit” to raise awareness.

    The articles you can on Sunday were superb, but I urge you not to let the matter rest there. I would like to see both news articles and editorials in future editions of the Herald addressing the quality of driving on our roads by both teens and adults and what we, as a society, can do to improve the situation and thus reduce the number of unnecessary highway fatalities. For example:

    • How many people die every day / week / month / year in traffic accidents compared to other causes of death?
    • Why is enforcement of driving rules and regulations so poor?
    • Why is the road test which must be passed by Massachusetts drivers so absurdly easy compared to the tests in other states?
    • Are there any states which require drivers to periodically retake the road test and eye test? If not, Massachusetts could be at the forefront of the driver safety movement by legislating such a requirement. If such a requirement were legislated across the board, rather than just on senior citizens as has been previously proposed, then the AARP lobby wouldn’t be able to cry discrimination.
    • Complaints that increased enforcement efforts, a harder driving test, periodic retesting, etc. would be too expensive, should be met by a comparison of the anticipated cost to how much is spent every year to combat diseases, hazards, etc. that cause far fewer deaths than traffic accidents. For example, how would the cost of driver safety programs compare to how much we spend each year on “homeland security”?

    I’m sure there are other areas that could be explored as well.

    I urge you to keep this issue in the news, and thus to keep people thinking about it, by publishing a series of articles over an extended period of time, and to support legislation and other governmental efforts to increase driver safety.

    Thank you,

    Jonathan Kamens

  5. jik Post author

    Today’s Herald front page:

    `SPEED KILLS' headline

    Lots of material in a two-page spread:

    • Margery Eagan column: “For loved ones, pain never ends”
    • “Deadly Crashes Are Wrecking Young Lives”
    • “Teens who have been there offer sage advice to peers”
    • “Parents taking action to prevent tragedy”

    It’s wonderful to see this. It could just be a flash in the pan, but there’s always hope that this could finally be the time when some sort of critical mass is achieved and there are long-term changes.

  6. jik Post author

    The Herald gave my letter top billing today in the grey column in the center of the letters page.

  7. Greg

    I was actually thinking of the jay-walking example. I’ve watched people waiting to cross to see if they look at traffic. Inevitably the majority of people fit into two groups — the people who look at the traffic and never look up at the light, and the people who watch the light and never check the traffic.

    Well, not quite inevitably, if there’s a lot of traffic everyone watches the lights and then of course some of them check the traffic and some don’t. And if there’s a lot of pedestrian traffic people who want to obey the lights end up getting swept in the crush of jay-walkers.

    But given a scenario where people have a choice you don’t find people patiently waiting for the walk signal when there’s no traffic and then double checking that there’s no traffic before walking.

    And in fact if you look at the scary statistics the police put out to discourage jay-walking and divide by population you find east-coast cities where jay-walking is a way of life have no worse rates of car-pedestrian accidents than west-coast cities like seattle where i’m led to believe jay-walking is much less common.

    It’s harder to tell why someone is driving the speed they’re driving of course. Unless you follow them for a while and see they’re driving precisely the speed limit or the conditions are particularly poor and they continue to drive the speed limits when that’s too fast.

  8. jik Post author

    Except that’s not how human nature works.

    Really, and you know this how, exactly? It’s easy to make all-encompassing pronouncements about human nature. It’s somewhat more difficult to actually prove them.

    But in practice if you watch you’ll see people will universally fall into one or the other category.

    Since I both obey speed limits and judge safe speed, trailing distance, etc. based on current conditions, I disprove your statement about where people “universally fall.” I’ll again point out that it’s much easier to make such pronouncements than to prove them. And I’ll again point out that it’s awfully convenient to make pronouncements which prove the validity of your admitted practice of disobeying the law when you find it convenient to do so.

  9. Greg

    People should be taught both to obey posted speed limits and to judge safe speeds.

    Except that’s not how human nature works. After all that’s what we have today in theory. But in practice if you watch you’ll see people will universally fall into one or the other category.

    It’s not hard to see why that’s the case. If you teach someone to judge somethiing for themselves they won’t have much respect for arbitrary rules that they can see are inapplicable. Conversely if you teach someone to respect the rules they won’t expect to have to think for themselves too.

    So in practice you must choose one or the other. I claim it’s better to teach people to look both ways before crossing the street than to teach them to obey a WALK signal. Likewise I claim it’s better to teach people about braking distances, reaction times, and sight-lines than it is to post a sign and expect everyone to follow it blindly.

  10. jik Post author

    I should clarify my comment, “people who drive slower have fewer accidents.”

    There are those who argue that when one person drives more slowly than everyone else on a highway, that driver can actually cause accidents. I’ve yet to see any statistics to back this up, and I certainly don’t believe that a safe driver going the speed limit in the right lane on a highway is truly a danger to himself or others.

    Aside from that, what’s much more interesting is when most people drive more slowly. That’s when the increased safety of the lower speed is most noticeable. That goes back to the point I was making in my letter to the editor, which is that the only real solution to this problem is to change the societal norm that speeding is OK.

  11. jik Post author

    You’re right, it is a statistical fallacy. However, I’m afraid your suspicion is dead wrong. In fact, what the studies have shown is that people who drive slower have fewer accidents, and the ones they have are less severe. It is obvious why this is the case.

    As I said before, “You could get into quibbles about what the speed limits should be….” There’s just no point in going down that path, so I’m simply not going to be baited into it.

    The newspapers can always find somebody to say that the kid was a good / slow / law-abiding driver after one of these accidents involving ridiculously excessive speed. The fact that he was driving 70 mph in a 30 mph zone would seem to belie that claim.

    People should be taught both to obey posted speed limits and to judge safe speeds. It would seem that the driver in this accident was adequately taught neither. Whether his parents are among the majority of drivers who model neither for their teen-agers, we cannot know.

    As for WALK signals, the same rule applies. You should be waiting to cross until both the signal is in your favor and is it safe to cross. It is specious to claim that because some drivers don’t yield the right of way to pedestrians, it’s OK for you to ignore the WALK signal whenever you think it’s safe to do so. That’s simply more rationalization from someone trying to justify disobeying the law for your own convenience.

    I have no more interest in discussing the drinking age than I do in quibbling over speed limits.

  12. Greg

    I see similar situations of pedestrians who stand waiting for the WALK signal even when there’s no traffic, then cross without looking trusting drivers to stop. I prefer to cross when I judge it’s safe rather than put my life in the hands of an electronic sign.

    Or in the 21-year drinking age which leads to people drinking for the first time away from home in private parties instead of while still at home and in semi-public locations like bars or chaperoned parties.

  13. Greg

    That’s a statistical fallacy. If most people violate a rule then certainly most accidents will involve someone violating it. You would have to see what percentage of people _not_ violating it also have accidents. I suspect the number is just as high or even higher.

    Driving 70 in a 30mph zone is undoubtedly reckless and i can’t see that they would have been any less likely to have been driving so fast if the limit had been 35 or 40.

    On the other hand if you read the article there are comments that the kid driving usually was a slow driver and others often had to encourage him to drive faster. Perhaps he was just inexperienced judging safe speeds. Had he not been taught to use senseless arbitrary limits but instead taught to judge safe speeds properly he might have been more likely to apply better judgement here.

  14. jik Post author

    Gee, that sounds like rationalization from someone who doesn’t obey the speed limits.

    Most of the other examples you cited are, indeed, arbitrary restrictions which add little, if any, actual security. Traffic laws are not, as evidenced by the fact that for most accidents (including this one), at least one of th parties involved violated at least onè such law.

    You could get into quibbles about what the speed limits should be, but the 30 mph limit for residential roads really is a reasonable limit for such roads.

    There’s another entry in my blog which shows in more detail what I think of the argument that the laws rather than the people are at fault. You can earch for it, so I won’t repeat it here.

  15. Greg

    Well the best way to end the culture of disregard for the rules of the road would be to fix the rules of the road to reflect how people drive. Just as prohibition, the war on drugs, low limits on personal declarations when crossing the border, even silly airport security theatre rules, any arbitrary rules that aren’t respected by the majority of ordinary citizens engenders a disregard for the law.


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