Current arguments in favor of raising the speed limit to 65 mph are disingenuous; a significant number of people in New York State will die or become permanently disabled should this law pass.
First, the argument that "everybody" now exceeds 55 mph and drives at 65 mph is an argument against raising the limit. It also reveals the actual agenda: to raise the speed to 75 mph or so. If "everybody" is traveling at 65 mph without penalty, then there's no need to waste the time and money by raising the limit. In fact, what will happen if the limit is raised is exactly what is happening now: People will regularly exceed it, and speeds will creep up into the mid-70s mph.
The idea that the State Police will enforce the 65-mph limit more rigorously than they now enforce the 55-mph limit ignores the fact that no additional officers will be added as a result of raising the limit, which means that even if the desire to enforce was there, the resources will not be. The argument that much of the Thruway was engineered to handle traffic at speeds up to 80 mph is irrelevant. Over-engineering is exactly the point: It's for safety. Far too few people are skilled enough to travel at the higher speeds, and the ones who do now are the last ones who should.
Why is 70-plus mph more dangerous?
In general, each 10 percent increase in crash speed increases the risk of death by nearly 45 percent. That is, the risk of death virtually doubles between 60 mph and 70 mph. In vehicles traveling above 70 mph, the ratio of occupant survival to fatality in a crash is 3 to 1; that is, one occupant will die for every three survivors, not accounting for disabling injuries.
Between 1982 and 1985, fatalities on rural interstates with 55 mph speed limits hovered around 1,800 per year. In 1986, 38 states raised the speed limit to 65 mph, and by 1988, fatalities skyrocketed to 2,500. They continue to average about 2,200 per year.
Much is made of the idea that increased speeds will only affect rural areas; apparently, the reasoning is that there are fewer people and therefore it's safer. In fact, while there are fewer crashes in rural areas, they are significantly more often fatal or involve permanent disability than crashes in urban areas. Speeds are already greater; crashes are more often head-on or involve loss of control and collisions with barriers or trees.
Given formulas for velocity and force, crashes occurring above 70 mph will render safety equipment nearly useless. Air bags will not have time to deploy, seat belts will be stretched beyond their capacity to protect and safety frames will not absorb and dissipate the crash's astronomical energy.
Among the most reprehensible arguments for raising the speed limits is that it will "help business" in the state by allowing quicker transportation of goods. This isn't a war for business. It is an issue of public safety and health. Each of us will pay for the guaranteed increases in death and disability through higher health-care, insurance and hospital costs. And that doesn't begin to address the physical and emotional costs involved.
Leave the speed limit at 55 mph. Enforce 65 mph.
PAUL T. HOGAN
THINK FIRST Injury Prevention Program
Millard Fillmore Health System