Speed still kills -- so why aren't we doing more?

By Mark Vallet


Teenagers in a carYou might think that teens are too busy texting to bother with speeding anymore.

But even as teen fatality rates have decreased over the past decade, a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) finds speed as a factor in deadly accidents has risen from 30 percent in 2000 to 33 percent in 2011.

Over that period, 19,447 fatal teen accidents were speeding related, GHSA said.

Report author Dr. Susan Ferguson says the odds grow even worse when there are teen passengers in the car. "When three or more teen passengers are in a vehicle driven by a 16-year-old male," Dr. Ferguson notes, "almost half of their fatal crashes are speeding-related."

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Yet speeding gets little attention compared with drinking or distracted driving. Drivers of all ages seem to feel that speeding is an acceptable behavior, and surveys have found that the majority of drivers admit to speeding on all types of roads. (See "Why don't we care about speeding?")

The fact that most states have increased speed limits in recent years is almost certainly adding to the problem. Texas opened a road that has a speed limit of 85 mph.

In the report, Dr. Ferguson acknowledges the problem. "Unless speeding is recognized as a dangerous behavior, much the same as drunk driving, addressing it will be difficult."

How to keep teens from speeding

The report, funded by insurer State Farm, discusses a number of solutions to the speeding problem.

Graduated Driving Licensing (GDL) programs have dramatically reduced teen deaths over the last 15 years, cutting them almost in half. However, early statistics show that teen deaths caused by car crashes inched up in 2012.

Ferguson says strong, properly enforced GDL laws have the potential to reduce the number of speeding-related crashes because they typically limit nighttime driving and the number of passengers.

Unfortunately, GDL laws are only as strong as their enforcement. Curfews and passenger restrictions can be difficult to enforce for both parents and law enforcement. The use of license plate decals identifying beginner drivers has shown some promise, but they are unpopular and compliance is only partial.

The study notes that some countries go much further with their GDL laws. Canada does not allow novice drivers on its highest-speed freeways. Australia prohibits young drivers from getting behind the wheel of high-powered cars.

Parental involvement is key, according to the report. Modeling the correct behavior -- which means following the speed limits yourself -- can have a big influence on the way your teen drives.

But parents can set strict limits as well. Parents should maintain control of the car keys and require their teens to request access when they want to drive," says GHSA spokesperson Kara Macek. "This helps parents monitor when - and with whom - their teens are driving."

The authors suggest parents set rules, investigate ways to monitor how well teens adhere to those rules and establish consequences for breaking them.

Limited access to a vehicle. Teens who have their own vehicles are more likely to speed, the report says. Do not allow a teen primary access to a vehicle for at least the first year of licensure. If the young driver does get a vehicle, safety must be the priority. (See "The Best Cars for Teens.")

Telematics - Usage-based insurance devices as well as third-party monitoring solutions can provide parents with feedback concerning speed, acceleration and hard braking as well as miles driven. (See "7 ways to spy on your teen driver.")

Intelligent speed assist hasn't made it to the U.S., yet but Australian and European drivers are embracing technology that warns of speeding and reduces fuel flow if necessary to slow the car. Ford's Adjustable Speed Limiter is one example.

Automated speed cameras are more popular in other countries than in the U.S., but the report says support for the cameras in communities where they are placed runs over 70 percent.

-- Freelance writer Mark Vallet is a regular contributor to CarInsurance.com.

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