A triply tragic coincidence
In my previous post (see: Genesis of the 'speed kills' paradigm) I pointed out that “the huge reductions in expressway fatality rates, which occurred in all European countries in ‘73/74, could not possibly have been caused by the speed limits imposed (for energy conservation) in only some countries.”
In a series of papers I have shown the same strong, positive correlation between the boom/bust economic cycles (in all, three over 30 years) and the year-to-year variations of the traffic fatality rate around its long-term trendline in 17 countries representing every inhabited continent!
Now correlation is not necessarily causation, but there appears to be a very plausible link between traffic fatalities and the high level of mental distraction during boom times and the more prudent and cautious (even defensive) driving in the following recession.
Thus was born the Absent-Minded Professor Syndrome and the AMPS Theory of ‘Accident’ Causation: ‘Accidents’, whether in the home, on the job or on the road, which states that accidents occur when “the mind is not on the motion”.
It is now easy to understand that the following 3-part tragicomic drama could be created by economic swings at the local level.
- During an economic ‘boom’ the highway crash rate rises suddenly as too many drivers indulge in pleasant daydreams about their new economic opportunities
- After many months of pressure to “Do something!” the politicians impose a new/lower speed limit and the signs are put up just as the boom is turning to ‘bust’, and
- The following economic recession pulls the crash rate down, to even below pre-boom levels. (And there is a rash of sprained elbows as the politicians pat themselves on the back for this great improvement in traffic safety.)
The misinterpretation of the source of the reduction, while understandable, resulted in the creation, or consolidation, among government safety officials of the “Speed Kills” policy.
This has led, in every developed country, to a triple tragedy:
- Many hundreds more died each year because resources were diverted from effective safety programs (e.g. the ‘Rappel’ concept in France) to the setting and enforcing of speed limits;
- Traffic officers have wasted much of their professional lives trying vainly to enforce the unenforceable (and this in their full and painful knowledge); and
- A massive wedge has been driven between the public and their police because citizens everywhere resent being randomly selected from a stream of vehicles, all traveling well over the speed limit (which has been set at a level which has absolutely no credibility with the general public).
For a more detailed discussion on the correlation between economic cycles and highway fatality rates, please see my Paper to the 1997 Society of Automotive Engineers congress in Detroit
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