Identify the Real Problem

Recently, a student at our local HS got hit by a car on the street in front of the school. In the quickest knee jerk reaction I’ve seen a municipality muster, the city dropped the speed limit to 20 mph (like a typical school zone but not restricted to school hours) on the street where the accident occurred. The street is 4 lanes wide with the HS on one side and residences on the other for this 3 block stretch, with parks on either side for the next 2 blocks. The road is straight with extra wide sidewalks. Visibility is great (except at sunset) and there are 4 crosswalks on the 3 block stretch between the school and neighborhood.

There are a lot of factors involved anytime there’s an accident like this and lots of conclusions to jump to, as well. I want to avoid that oversimplifying pitfall, but I’m wondering… does the difference between 30 mph and 20 mph actually make this stretch of the street any safer for pedestrians? Or is that just the most easily controlled variable?

The reaction makes perfect sense, but as I drive this street several times every day (a little more slowly now), I’m not sure anyone is more safe today than they were a few weeks ago. In fact, I’m guessing we’ll have a few more fender benders as there is a larger difference between the speeds of the speed-limit obeying drivers and the I’ll drive as fast as I want anyway drivers. Drivers are more agitated because the extra 23 seconds it will now take really messes up their well planned commute.

In this case, I suspect the enacted plan won’t do a lot to help because it doesn’t address the real problem. The real problem is not that extra 10 mph. The problem is people not paying attention to the world around them. Most of the accidents I’ve seen here have been because someone didn’t notice something that was right in front of them the whole time. It’s easy to do. Sometimes it only takes a split second of distraction.

It seems that every time there is an accident, we are quick to place blame and call for more restrictions of some kind or another. But does adding more “rules of the road” make anyone more safe from people who already don’t pay attention to the existing rules? Probably not.

But we can always add more rules.

So we do.

Even though painting cross walks and putting up flashing lights and lowering speed limits and parking police cruisers in the area doesn’t actually focus a driver’s attention on the road. We, as a society, feel like we have to do something to mitigate the risks caused by irresponsible people, so we do… something. Because it makes us feel like we’ve done… something.

But what do we do when “something” doesn’t really help?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.