The safety factor


| dbrennan@queenscourier.com |

I got a speeding ticket the other night. I deserved it, doing 74 in a 50 mile-per-hour zone. I could argue I was on the West Side Highway around 96th Street and it was around midnight with few cars on the road. But really, there are no excuses. I wasn’t rushing anywhere. I was just careless.

And then I saw the statistics on traffic deaths. Fatalities are up 12 percent over last year. The number one cause, of course, was speeding.

I am amazed that the city speed limit is still 30 miles-per-hour on most roads. That includes side streets, where of course people do at least 40 mph if not higher.

To illustrate the point, the DOT clocked cars near schools. At 100 schools, vehicles were seen speeding 75 percent of the time. At three other schools cars sped 100 percent of the time.

The city has lowered speed limits in particularly bad areas. It has also installed speed bumps on other streets. Ironically, some traffic experts say speed bumps can cause drivers to go faster because they will speed up between the speed bumps to make up the lost time. Incredible!

The city says people who have demanded the bumps often want them removed because of the loud noises that cars make when they hit them.

Ironically, experts will tell you that if drivers feel safer, counter-intuitively, they will drive more carelessly. In his book “Traffic,” Tom Vanderbilt writes that “the safer cars get, the more risks drivers choose to take.”

So drivers get careless on flat, straight roads, but are more careful when the road gets windy. Drivers will get very close to cyclists in bike lanes, but give them a wide berth when they don’t have one. Vanderbilt says traffic circles are 90 percent safer when they replace intersections, because circles require more attention.

Not surprisingly, people in SUVs seem to think they are invincible. They creep up on top of you, seem to tailgate more, and basically act like they own the road.

Vanderbilt says essentially, you can’t blame the cars, or the roads. Blame the drivers, the ones on their cell phones, the ones texting, the ones reading their newspapers (I’ve seen it!), and yes, the ones speeding. They will stop all the nonsense when they have to pay attention.

There are no easy solutions. Vanderbilt writes that in ancient Rome, traffic got so bad, Caesar banned chariots.

Well, that would never happen here. It’s not like we have a mayor who has the power to go banning things.