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Changing the Speed Limit

May 21, 1987

The purpose of this letter is to respond to a letter by Kenneth D. Fink (April 25) regarding the changing of the speed limit back to 65 m.p.h. on some sections of highways.

The comments made by Fink, regarding his claim that a resumption of the 65 m.p.h. speed limit on some stretches of highway will result in human sacrifice, must not go unchallenged.

Fink, and others who have failed to properly inform themselves, continues to believe that the implementation of the 55 m.p.h. speed limit caused thousands of lives to be saved from death. Nothing is further from truth and fact. The so-called savings were the product of fewer miles traveled in the years immediately following the imposition of the reduced limit, not the speed traveled. After dramatic increases in fuel costs over a very short period of time, for most of us it simply became too expensive to drive more than what was absolutely necessary.

The proper standard by which to judge highway fatalities is the death rate per hundred million miles traveled each year. Statistically this rate decreases a little each year, a change that can be more reasonably attributed to improved technology since it had been occurring with regularity even before 1974.

In the last few years technological improvements in such areas as vehicle braking systems and tire performance have continued to coincide with a decreasing highway death rate in spite of the effective speed increases to 65 m.p.h. If such decreases can occur at a time when actual vehicle speeds were increasing, then there seems to be a major flaw in any argument against raising the speed limit based on a "speed kills" point of view.

Although the 65 m.p.h. limit will soon be in effect without his approval, if the cynical Mr. Fink is afraid of rampant speeding at 75 m.p.h. (the rate which he believes most drivers will now travel), he can be secure in the knowledge that it is unlikely that this will occur. Many highways in Europe lack any limits whatsoever yet the average speed on those sections is usually very close to 65 m.p.h., and not infrequently less.

Lastly, Fink claims that because of the additional fuel that may be used with the new, higher speeds, the oil companies will observe increased profits. Unfortunately on the kinds of roads that will receive the increase there is very little traffic in relative terms. Only about 3% of all travel is on the interstate system, although these are very crucial miles for those who travel them with regularity, as I do.

Unlike Fink and his spiritual peers, I, and many others like me, take pride in knowing how to operate a vehicle skillfully and safely. Since we are more informed and accurate in our information, and more committed to the cause of safe highways than Fink, we would appreciate leaving to us the work of getting the bad drivers off the road and the government off our back. Inept advice sets us back on both fronts.

MICHAEL J. SCHAAF

Altadena

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