The state of Texas sets the default speed limit on most streets to 30 mph, but several cities are adjusting that down and the City of Houston has plans to do that as well. The city released their Vision Zero Action Plan (houstontx.gov/visionzero) in November and is lobbying the state legislature to reduce the default speed limit to 25 mph.
Vision Zero is a road traffic safety effort that is being adopted by major cities around the world. The basis is that it is never ethically OK to trade lives in exchange for moving within our transportation system. The responsibility for safe transport is not just on road users, but also on road designers to design roads that encourage safe behavior.
Reducing the speed limit from 30 to 25 mph may seem like it is not worth the effort, but it actually does make a significant difference when the elderly are struck by drivers. At 30 mph, those aged 60 or higher have a 50% chance of being killed when hit, but that drops to 20% at 25 mph. Adults and children (0-14 years) also have a much better chance at surviving. It drops from an 8% fatality rate at 30 mph to 3% at 25 mph. Many drivers don’t think twice about doing 5 over the speed limit and the fatality rate soars to nearly 20% at 35 mph. These percentages may seem small, but roughly half of all pedestrian deaths are the result of impacts at 30 mph or less.
The City of Humble actually maintains a 20-mph speed limit on most of the streets in the downtown Humble area, so these methods are around even if you haven’t noticed them.
We need to make these changes because we have a road death problem in Texas. Across the state of Texas, we have almost 4,000 deaths per year, with 626 of them being pedestrians that were killed. Of the 4,000, Harris County contributed about 400 to that number. For every death, there are also several people that have been seriously injured. It really doesn’t have to be that way. Part of it is a culture that we have developed for driving fast or carelessly or drunk, but the other portion is that we have designed the streets and highways to move people as fast as possible without safety being the priority.
Farm and City, a Texas non-profit, did a study (farmandcity.org/2017/09/05/how-much-do-traffic-crashes-cost-the-people-of-texas-a-162-billion) to try to quantify and answer the question if traffic congestion or traffic crashes are more harmful to the Texas economy. You might be surprised as the answer is crashes. In addition to the emotional impact when people die, society loses the rest of a lifetime of productivity and consumer spending. In 2016, the estimated economic cost of all crashes was $38.6 billion, but traffic congestion only cost $14 billion. When you factor in the comprehensive cost of traffic crashes, which include the loss of quality of life, the number balloons to $162 billion.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to sacrifice thousands of our friends and neighbors annually. Every single one of these crashes is preventable. We all see people drifting over the lines on the highway while looking at their phone, making dangerous lane changes, rolling through a stop sign, driving home after having a few drinks and other behaviors that could contribute to a crash. Dropping the speed limit on smaller streets to 25 mph is an easy way to save the lives of our friends and family and the speed difference is extremely small.
Those few seconds can help save a life, so please think of your fellow Texans and drive friendly.