I can’t drive, 55!

[Sgt. Kern Swoboda of the New York State Police] says speeding tickets are not issued to make up for police-department budget deficits. It’s about safety, he says, and the numbers don’t lie. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 40,000 people are killed each year in auto accidents; speeding is a factor in 30% of those crashes.

via Instapundit.

What a complete load. If tickets aren’t used to make up budget deficits, then how about all traffic fines be sent to the local soup kitchen / homeless shelter? Why does the .gov get to keep fines anyway? All that does is set up a perverse incentive system that has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with justifying your job with “revenue” figures.

I don’t know how old Swoboda is, but I am old enough to remember driving the national speed limit of 55 mph. Was that about safety? Did cars or drivers suddenly become extra safe when Clinton signed the bill ending the national speed limit? (apparently another Clinton supports returning to the 55 mph limit.) No, people realized that 55 might save fuel and money, but not lives. So we can safely say that speed limits are sometimes set for reasons other than safety.

It wasn’t promoted because it didn’t tow the .gov line about speed limits and safety, but the .gov has studied this issue. Yes, speed is a factor in 30% of vehicle crashes. But the .gov found that it wasn’t going too fast that was the problem, but going 10mph +/- than the surrounding traffic. From the report (emphasis added):

The data clearly show that lowering posted speed limits did not reduce vehicle speeds or accidents. Also, lowering speed limits well below the 86th percentile speed did not increase speeds and accidents. Conversely, raising the posted speed limits did not increase speeds and accidents. The majority of motorist did not drive 5 to 10 mi/h (8 to 16 km/h) above the posted speed limit when speed limits were raised, nor did they reduce their speed by 5 or 10 mi/h (8 to 16 km/h) when speed limits were lowered.

Because there were few changes in the speed distribution, it is not surprising that the overall effects of speed limit changes on accidents were minor. It is interesting to note that compliance decreased when speed limits were lowered and accidents tended to increase. Conversely, when compliance improved after speed limits are raised, accidents tended to decrease.

If everyone is doing 70mph then there isn’t a problem. If granny is doing 60mph or speed racer is doing 80mph thats where the problem comes.

If safety is the driving concern of the police, then the safest speed to go is whatever speed everyone else is going.

So now that we know what speed to really go, how about that ticket revenue? Are speeds and ticket revenue possibly jiggered to shore up municipal budgets? Here is what the Thomas A. Garrett of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis says:

There is anecdotal evidence that local governments use traffic tickets to generate revenue. Using panel data for North Carolina counties, we examine whether changes in local government revenue influence the number of traffic tickets issued. We find strong evidence of an asymmetric response by local governments. Specifically, positive changes in revenue have no effect on traffic tickets, but negative revenue changes increase the number of traffic tickets issued. A one percentage point decrease in revenue yields a 0.38 percentage point increase in traffic tickets. We calculate that traffic ticket revenue supplements a low percentage of local revenue losses.

They go on to say:

After a recent decrease in the number of traffic tickets issued in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one city official expressed concern since traffic tickets provide much needed revenue to the local government. City officials in Houston, Texas predicted that the number of traffic tickets issued was expected to rise again due to budget cuts resulting from reduced traffic fines. The mayor of Nashville, Tennessee included a 33 percent increase in traffic ticket revenue in his final city budget. Finally, in a discussion of traffic tickets in Washington, D.C., a city councilman claimed “With the financial situation of the city today, it’s not a matter of reducing…we need every penny we can get.”

So Sgt. Kern Swoboda of the New York State Police, you get todays Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire award.

btw: Do you know why Forbes lists the 40,000 number for total traffic fatalities and then says 30% involve speeding? Because 40,000 is scarier than 12,000 and they think you’re bad at math. If I rewrite that as:

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 40,000 people are killed each year in auto accidents; speeding is not a factor in 70% of those crashes.

Then I can’t make the point that you should shut up and do what the .gov tells you to for your own good.

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