Speed Kills

I generally disdain watching television. The biggest exception I grant for myself is auto racing. I’m a fan of motorcycle and Formula 1 racing and a casual fan of other series’ as well.

One of the better programs for a race fan to watch is Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain on SpeedTV. The show runs on Sunday evenings and provides a recap of everything recent in racing from motocross to NASCAR.

On Saturdays NASCAR race in Daytona Florida there was an accident in which a car flew into the catch fence on the front straightaway and a tire flew over and injured some people.

On Wind Tunnel, Despain talked about such accidents. Years ago NASCAR put restrictor plates on the cars to slow them down on the large speedways, the idea being that the faster they are the easier they will take flight.

Their is logic to this argument. Faster planes take off easier. However Mr. Despains argument is that the speeds have not been reduced enough by the restrictor plates and that they should be further altered to bring speeds down to ~180 MPH. Following the logic of increased speed leading to increased lift this would make sense.

Except there is this matter to consider. When the cars are restricted as the superspeedways like Daytona they are almost all equal and run in very large groups. Large groups of cars traveling alongside each other are more prone to have accidents than small groups or individual cars.

I bring this up as a demonstration in thinking because there are two theories to consider. Are the cars more dangerous, for both drivers and spectators, when faster but spaced apart, or when slower and in large groups that are guaranteed to cause a massive wreck.

No doubt the extra speed makes them riskier, but risk means a possibility not a certainty, however the slower speeds almost certainly guarantee a large wreck.

It would be interesting to see someone conduct a study on this. Traffic: Why we drive the way we do, is a book by Tom Vanderbilt that challenges many assumptions about the way we think about traffic and how we drive in real life that would be comparable in a way.

Speed or Traffic, what is worse?


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Posted on February 24, 2013, in Problems to Ponder and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I heard the autubahn actually has less accidents, if true, that would be interesting.

    • When I lived in Europe this was true. However, when there was an accident it was the mother of all accidents (some involved over a hundred cars, spanning 1 km in pileup length). Most of the accidents were due to weather conditions, especially fog.

      Careful with correlation/causation, though. Germans and Austrians are better drivers in general than Americans. They are also better rule followers. This was strikingly demonstrated in the mountains of Piancavallo, Italy, during the Kosovo conflict. Pilots from around the world stayed in the lodges at the top and had to travel down to Roverado on a daily basis to participate in the air campaign. There were many crashes, and since the respective governments were obligated to compensate the car companies they announced a penalty fee would be exacted for damages. By the end of the campaign Canadians had driven the best, followed by the Germans and US was dead last.

      Add to the driving aspect the fact that there are far more opportunities for public transportation over there than here. Grandmas who can’t see and shouldn’t be driving aren’t on the autubahn, typically.

      • European driving is an interesting topic. From my observations many Europeans were not great drivers, particularly when talking about parking or navigating tight areas. I put this down to them not driving on a daily basis and thus lacking the experience and skill for such things, then again many Americans suck at that too. I’m far superior at handling a car than most people so i cringe at most people’s driving.
        When I was with my girl in Germany we only used her car maybe 5 times in 2.5 weeks.
        I think the difference is that Europeans generally adhere to the rules of the road better. They simply have higher standards for how you should drive and they follow it. For example they use the left lane for passing and thus nobody clogs up the freeway.
        Slow down someone behind you and they’re correct for honking and flashing their lights at you, you’ll feel shame for being so dumb.
        In America if you honk and flash lights at someone slow in the passing/fast lane the response is more likely to be ‘why’s this asshole honking at me, wtf?’ and then they’d drive like a bigger moron to spite you.
        It’s like most things in America, people just dont care cause they’re not expected too.We have incredibly low standards for things in America, we drive as bad as we educate.

    • I’ll say that its pretty awesome to be on the autobahn. Though I was just in a little car seeing the Porsches’ and Mercedes’ fly by at insane speeds was very cool.

      As for the accidents there’s some stats on wikipedia that lists auto fatalities by nation. The only drawback is that it doesnt have stats on non-fatal accidents. But for fatalities it appears that western europe is the safest drivers, the US and Canada are after that and then Eastern europe. Interestingly Australia is ahead of the US and Canada but slightly behind W. Europe.

      • That’s a great link. People I know who have deployed to Afghanistan maintain they are the worst drivers in the world. It’s interesting to see that confirmed (though it looks like Egypt is even worse). They said it’s because everyone is high on something while driving.

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