A Symptom of Anarchy: Speeding

7:02 pm. June 13, 2019. 15-year old Donnel was struck and killed on Helen Street by a 24-year old driver who lost control of his car. He was traveling through a neighborhood at a high rate of speed. The driver attempted to flee the scene and was forcibly detained by residents until the police arrived.

5:21pm. October 24, 2019. 34-year Anna and her unborn baby died when their vehicle was struck by another car travelling at “excessive speed” in “abhorrent conditions”. The vehicle that struck Anna was traveling above 100mph (161km/h) in snowy conditions. The driver of the speeding vehicle died 5 days later from his injuries.

3:40 pm. August 21, 2020. 8-year old Lauren was struck and killed on Conner Street by a 16-year old driver traveling at a high rate of speed in a residential area.

These are just three examples of the more than 1.3 million vehicle-related fatalities that occur every year across the globe.

June 19, 2020. COVID had gripped most of the world, causing things to shut down pretty much everywhere. I had a job working in an office with only one other person at the time so I left home at my habitually early hour to go to the office. I entered the freeway and accelerated to the speed limit then set my cruise control. I had an open lane ahead of me and almost no cars around me. It was early. The sun wouldn’t rise for another two hours.

Moments after getting on the freeway, a car travelling well above the speed limit approached my car from behind. I didn’t have a speed gun, but based on the approach, I guessed the driver must have been going 90mph or faster. The speed limit in that area is 70mph; plenty fast for in-city driving.

The driver followed far too close for comfort so I tapped the brakes. At that point, she sped around me — probably exceeding 100mph in the process. In the brief moment that she passed, she took her eyes off the road ahead of her to look across her car at me with her eyes narrowed in irritation that .

According to published reports between 2004 and 2018 by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the National Highway Safety Administration (NHSA), the number of accidents involving speed (prior to 2020) stabilized somewhat over the last 5 years. While the number of accidents has gone down, however, the number of fatalities has increased at an alarming rate.

The chart below shows a correlation between speed-related accidents and the percentage of people who died in those accidents. 2016 saw a huge jump in the number of fatalities with a slight decline in 2017 and 2018. (In late-2020 2019 data was still not published.)

A graph showing the number of speed-related accidents and the percent of those including a fatality compiled from 14 years of National Highway Safety and National Transportation Safety Board information.

The term “road rage” appeared as early as 1988 but didn’t become popular with the news until about 1994. According to an NHTSA report published in 2018 and quoted by SafeMotorist.com, over the 7 years prior to 2018, 218 and 12,610 injuries were attributed to road rage.

2020, for so many reasons, was an unusual year, and 2021 is, in many ways, following suit. In a March 15, 2021 article written by Paul Nelson of the Deseret News in Utah, he noted that representatives from both the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP) say road “fatalities jumped [in 2020], even though the amount of traffic has gone way down”.

Of note, in Utah there was an 11% in road fatalities even though there was a 13% in the number of cars on the roads. Additionally, UHP Colonel Michael Rapich stated, “In 2020, we issued 5,139 citations for speed over 100 miles an hour. An incredible increase, 45%,” he said. A 45% increase in a single year!

In a PEW Stateline article from April 20, 2020, Jenni Bergal quoted Pam Shadel Fischer, a senior director at the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices. “We’re seeing incredibly crazy, off-the-chart speed and aggressiveness.”

Let’s do a thought experiment here. If my commute to work includes 10 minutes on the freeway at 70mph, I can travel almost 12 miles in those 10 minutes. If I increase my speed to 100mph, I can travel almost 17 miles in those same 10 minutes. Those 12 miles at 70mph take me about 10.3 minutes on average. At 100mph, those 12 miles can be covered in 7.2 minutes.

According to Popular Mechanics, a car travelling 100mph has more than twice as much kinetic energy as a car travelling at 70mph. That means, if I slam on my brakes when going 100mph, I won’t even slow to 70mph in the time it takes the slower car to stop completely. A standard 4-door sedan, if you stomp on the brakes, will go from 70mph to a complete stop in about 5.8 seconds (including reaction time). A car traveling 100mph will not come to a complete stop for about 7.2 seconds (including reaction time) and will travel an astonishing 750 feet.

So, I might save 3.1 minutes, but the chances of a serious or fatal accident go up dramatically.

So, how is this a symptom of anarchy?

First, anarchy is simply a state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority.

There are many laws that are practically unenforceable. For example, nobody gets a traffic ticket in New York City anymore for running a red light during rush hour because the city is entirely gridlocked twice a day. You honk. You go. It’s the only thing that appears to keep traffic moving. Even foot traffic has no regard for traffic lights. You just hit the hood of the car you’re crossing in front of to catch the driver’s attention and you go. Most of the time, strong language is exchanged.

As the number of people in any given area increases, it becomes increasingly difficult for the police to enforce laws. So, people have to police themselves. It’s part of being a responsible member of any society.

As populations grow, the number of police per capita drops. Difficult to enforce laws become even more difficult to enforce. More people begin to think — and act — on the idea that they can get away with it. Whatever it happens to be: speeding, theft, sticking their chewing gum to the subway hand rail, whatever.

Like a flywheel, it’s a cycle that builds momentum with only three potential outcomes: a police state, the complete breakdown of society, or a return to self-governance.

That may seem overly dramatic.

In any legislative process, obsolete laws should be taken off the books. The legal code in the United States is far too complex (my untrained opinion). There should always push-and-pull in the process to make sure lawmakers don’t take too much power into their own hands (a subject for another day), but blatant disregard for well-intentioned laws (again, subject for another day) designed to protect the masses should not happen.

As more of those laws are disregarded by more people, civil society gives way to anarchy. Excessive speed is just one of the many symptoms that civility is breaking down.

The big question is: is it already too late to turn back?

Married to my best friend. Father to five exuberant children. Fledgling entrepreneur. Writer. Software developer. Inventory management expert.

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