We all have done it. A little extra pressure on the gas pedal because we were running late, bored with our commute or just in the mood to get where we were going.

We’ve come to think that a speed limit of 25 means 35, as Westbrook police chief William Baker pointed out last week, 35 means 45 and 45 means 55. Baker found that vast majority of the cars traveling through his city were out of compliance with the speed limit — and Westbrook is no anomaly. Disregard for speed limits is so common it seems that only the vehicles that follow the law are out of step.

Baker took the right step by instituting a vigorous enforcement campaign. Helping the crackdown was the city’s “speed spy,” a device
that records passing vehicles’ speed.

When stopped, motorists complained to police officers asking why they weren’t out catching “real criminals,” but they were missing the point. Speeding is much more of a threat to a motorist’s safety than most of the seemingly more serious crimes that people are concerned about.

According to a study by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, excessive speed was a factor in one-third of fatal accidents.

Why that is should not be hard to understand. Higher speeds reduce the amount of time a driver has to avoid an obstacle, making a crash more likely. It also makes the consequences of the accident more severe, making injury and death more likely.

Given that reality, what is hard to understand is why so many of us speed so routinely and why we are so tolerant of other drivers who go too fast.

Perhaps tools like the speed spy will help police do their job and enforce speed limits, but there will never be enough police around to
watch every street. It’s up to all of us to realize that speeding is a threat to our safety and we are not going to tolerate it any more.
 


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