Driving at night – Photo by Dennis Wilkinson
Here in Canada – and especially in Ontario – you could be cruising along the highway at 125km/h in a maximum 100km/h zone – and many other drivers will still be buzzing past you.
Bicycling on an empty sidewalk, or rolling through a red light at an empty intersection on a bicycle evokes sharp criticism in the media, usually by journalists who are clinging to their car culture and have probably never ridden a bicycle in a city before.
When entitled drivers chastise me about bicyclist behaviour, I ask them if they ever break the law when they drive. First they say no. But when you query them about speeding, they say “well, everybody does that. It’s harmless”.
I am currently enrolled in an online university course in business ethics. While reading the course materials tonight, the text discussed how people can obey the law, but be unethical. Similarly, someone can break the law, but still be acting ethically.
This is of course true. But where they went wrong, in my opinion, is in the example they provided.
From the course text:
“Notice also that, on the other hand, there are some activities that are illegal but that can be defended, ethically. If everyone on the highway is driving at 120km/h, you are probably ethically justified in doing so too. In fact, if you drive the legal speed limit of 100km/h, you yourself might be causing danger.
Cognitive Dissonance & Self-Affirmation
This example is indicative of how ingrained we are in car culture and how dangerous driving behaviour is shrugged off and rationalized – even at a time when thousands of people are killed unnecessarily on our roads every year in preventable collisions.
The assertion that driving 100km/h is more dangerous than driving 120km/h when everyone else is driving 120km/h reeks of cognitive dissonance and self-affirmation that only serves to rationalize bad behaviour and maintain our current status quo.
Driving 50km/h when everyone else is driving 120km/h would certainly put you in a dangerous situation, but rationalizing speeding on the basis that it’s safer to “keep up” with traffic is a stretch.
Just ask anyone involved in a 20-car pileup collision if they regret “keeping up with traffic”, instead of leaving more space between themselves and the car in front of them to give them more time to react.
This logic seems even more asinine when applied to driving on city streets. Nothing feels worse for a bicyclist or a pedestrian than having cars fly past at 70km/h in a 50km/h zone.
Reducing speed limits? Not gonna happen
When Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, David McKeown, recommended the city reduce its speed limits to improve safety and save lives, Toronto’s Mayor Ford and his brother Councillor Doug Ford bullied and belittled Dr. McKeown for his suggestion, calling the Dr’s salary an “embarrassment” and calling his recommendations “nonsense”.
On Friday night I was driving home from my hockey game, through a hard downpour, on a highway that traverses through a valley known for flooding. I was driving between 70-80km/h, preparing myself to slow down further, should I encounter flooding.
Most other drivers were flying past me at 110-120km/h (in a 90km/h maximum zone), in the left lane – the one lane that had visible pools of water – causing these drivers to splash huge quantities of water over the median into the oncoming traffic.
Had I sped up to stay “safe” and “keep up” with the other drivers, I would have been endangering myself and others. Yet in our society, this would have been perfectly acceptable.
Our speeding is ‘shocking’
When we have friends and family visit us from mainland China, they are completely shocked at how fast we drive our cars on the highway. Traffic in China is chaotic, but it’s slow motion chaos, and drivers always seem to expect the unexpected (mind you China is quickly being infested by the parasitic disease that consumes our culture here).
Our society’s addiction to cars ensures that dangerous operation of a motor vehicle is perfectly acceptable, if not encouraged.
The facts are pretty clear. Speeding kills. The faster you go, the less time you have to react, and the more damage you will cause to yourself and others.
UK DOT statistics on vehicle/pedestrian collisions (via Streetsblog SF)
Today, 120km/h may be an acceptable minimum speed to drive on the highway in our society. Tomorrow, it may be acceptable to drive 150km/h. If everyone else is doing it, it’s safer, right? Where do we draw the line? When is enough, enough?
Is the 2 minutes that a driver saves on a 20km drive worth the increased risk? Is it too much of an inconvenience for everyone to slow down a little and possibly save someone’s life?
More Articles Like This:
- Heartbreaking Documentary: Texting While Driving: It Can Wait (Aug 2013)
- Warning: Driving Kills, Maims, Suffocates & Ravages (Sept 2013)
- “Cars Kill So Many People It Staggers The Imagination” (July 2013)
- Grandmother Writes Apology Letter After Driving Like “Idiot” (June 2013)
- Responsibility & Accountability On Our Streets (Apr 2011)
- No Cars. No Traffic Signals. No Deaths (June 2011)
- Baby On Board: A Desperate Plea (Feb 2012)
- Our Backwards Approach to Road Safety (July 2011)