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PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2011 03:06 
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Joined: Tue Oct 12, 2004 02:17
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Location: Highlands
Indy USA here
Indy Star - Casey Williams wrote:
Hoosier Autobahn: The pursuit of safe speed
Written by Casey Williams - Indy Star correspondent

After the birth of the motorized vehicle, Hoosiers' introduction to automobiles and speed was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Too often it involved human and mechanical carnage caused by projectiles.

"Crazy Carl" Fisher and his compatriots eventually paved the place with bricks before the inaugural 500-mile sweepstakes. Safety further advanced when Ray Harroun attached a rearview mirror to his racer.

The first car in Indianapolis was a German Benz, but the 1911 Indy 500 was won by a locally built Marmon.

Hoosier highways
Like the speedway, our highways evolved from dangerous paths to asphalt slabs that enabled higher-speed driving. Authorized by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, interstates were designed to keep traffic moving while being padded with wide grassways to enhance safety.

Speed limits were lowered to 55 mph during the 1979 oil embargo, raised to 65 mph in 1987, and left entirely to the states in 1995. Indiana's limit of 70 mph seems reasonably enforced.

Despite what you hear from safety advocates, speed doesn't necessarily kill. Since 1994, the average fatality rate per million miles driven in Indiana is 1.32 people, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Other Midwest states like Ohio (1.26), Michigan (1.34) and Illinois (1.36) are similar, despite varying speed limits. For perspective, the U.S. average is 1.53. Despite strict enforcement of 65 mph limits, our neighbor to the east doesn't have statistically significant lower fatality rates.

German autobahn
Germany has another perspective. Because citizens enjoy no speed limits on long expanses of autobahn, the country pioneered automotive excellence from necessity -- as in racing -- to avoid the mayhem once wrought upon the speedway.

The autobahn was the world's first limited-access, high-speed road. Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union (Audi) used it for speed tests and to develop the safest cars in the world. Although the autobahn has no general speed limit, it has an advisory limit of 81 mph and nearly half of it is subject to speed restrictions in congested areas. Germany has lower fatality rates than the U.S.

Instead of speed limits, law enforcement focuses on traffic flow. The left lane is only used for overtaking, and drivers can be fined for lingering. Passing on the right is strictly forbidden except in dense traffic. Drivers cannot stop for any reason and can be fined for running out of gas.

New drivers undergo extensive training. As at the speedway, road surfaces are meticulously maintained.

Targeting a safe speed
Considering the experience of Germany and states like Texas, I boil safe high-speed driving to five concepts:

1. 85th Percentile Rule: Assumes 85 percent of drivers travel at a prudent speed no matter the limit. Allow lax enforcement, let a natural speed occur and set the maximum accordingly. Using this theory, Texas recently raised its limits to 85 mph.

2. Stay Right: Keep right except to quickly pass. Enforce no passing on the right, and move left-lane bandits out of the way. Predictable behavior is essential.

3. Vehicle Standards: Reinstate vehicle inspections. Tires, brakes, signals and safety equipment should be verified as capable of high-speed travel.

4. Cell Phone/Texting: Ban all handheld devices with stiff penalties.

5. Law Enforcement: Let state troopers focus their considerable talent on safe traffic flow, less on enforcing arbitrary speed limits. Get them out of hiding and onto the road where they can do their best work.

Some last food for thought: At an average speed of 74.6 mph, Harroun won the Indy 500 in a car that would have its tailpipes handed to it by a VW Beetle -- and with much greater safety. Yet, on interstates that put early speedways to shame, we have 70 mph limits.

Casey Williams writes a weekly column for The Indianapolis Star's Saturday section. He can be reached at

Safe Speed for Intelligent Road Safety through proper research, experience & guidance.

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