I was interviewed yesterday by Roop Raj on Fox 2 News in Detroit. Roop wanted to get my perspective as an automobile accident lawyer on what the human cost will be if speed limits are increased.
There is now a law in the works that would increase Michigan speed limits. State Sen. Rick Jones is working on a proposal that would allow drivers to go faster, potentially up to 80 miles per hour.
You can watch the full story here:
One of the things we talked about was the science of why speed kills, and why, based upon simple physics, cars that go faster will result in more people being killed and seriously injured in car accidents.
But there’s a new variable involved now that makes this proposed speed limit increase even more dangerous.
Today, there’s more driver distraction than ever before due to technology. A new study estimates that one in every four car accidents involves the use of cell phones, either people texting or driving on the phone. All we have to do is glance over to our left or our right when we’re driving to see this is true.
The problem is that cell phone driver distraction is deadly. Another study estimates that texting while driving is as dangerous as driving intoxicated behind the wheel.
So what happens with driver distraction and increasing speed is that brief but vital safety cushion disappears. A car traveling at 55mph is traveling at approximately 80 feet per second. But a car traveling at 80 mph (as Sen. Jones is suggesting for the top new speed limit in Michigan) means a car is now traveling at around 120 feet per second. Assuming driver perception/reaction time of approximately 1.5 seconds, that car has now traveled 240 feet before the driver can perceive a danger and react.
So someone who is texting and suddenly looks up to see traffic stopped ahead will have traveled 240 feet before he or she can even begin to react and apply the brakes. That car travels the length of a football field before it can even begin to slow down to avoid smashing into the car in front of it.
I told Roop that the problem is that safety hasn’t caught up yet to technology. And increasing speed limits takes away this vital safety cushion that lets drivers avoid smashing into other drivers.
Presumably, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will do a cost benefit analysis of this proposal to increase the speed limit in Michigan. This analysis by MDOT and the Michigan State Police should not just focus on what speed will work for how roads are constructed, and for driver lines of sight. But, as horrible as it sounds, it should also include a real cost benefit analysis of the human life.
Harking back to the Ford Pinto days, there must be some real analysis done on how many people will be killed if people can drive 5 or 10 mph faster and get to wherever they’re going a few minutes earlier.
Everyone thinks they’re a safe driver and a life-altering car accident can never happen to them. But even if you think it is never you, think about the other driver. That other driver is now texting behind your car, traveling 80 mph or 120 feet per second, and that driver suddenly looks up and sees your car stopped in traffic in front of him.
What happens next will be simple physics.