The push is on to drop the speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour in Swampscott. An idea that won Boston City Council approval a week ago seems to be spreading north. But is it a good idea?
There is no question speed is a major statistically documented factor in driving injuries and fatalities. The tragic deaths of teenagers behind the steering wheels of speeding cars seems to be a regular occurrence that traumatizes families and schools and needlessly cuts short young lives.
But reducing speed limits is a flawed approach to increasing traffic safety for several reasons. The main reason is simple: No one wants to drive 25 miles per hour on streets in any community. Couple that reality with the fact that police officers and electronic traffic signs cannot set up shop on every corner with the aim of enforcing speed limits.
In the day and age of social media, other influences dictate driver safety, including texting, talking on the phone while driving and — this is Massachusetts — cursing out other drivers. Speeding is often a product of bad driving habits and impatience. Every driver knows the streets in a community where a straightaway or the simple desire to detour around irritating traffic jams prompts otherwise sane drivers to apply a lead foot to the gas pedal.
Most drivers are reasonable, level-headed people who know to slow down in residential areas and who, more often than not, pay careful attention in school zones. Every driver also knows there are simply too many cars traveling streets in Massachusetts communities where road layouts date, in some cases, back to the 17th century.
Driving safely in Swampscott and any community in the state requires a combination of sound habits and situational awareness. The public dollars potentially spent on enforcing lower speed limits could be better spent on raising the driver education bar.
Getting people to drive safer is an exercise similar to raising home fire safety awareness. A billboard and social media campaign by the Lynn Fire Department drove home the importance of smoke alarms and sensible fire safety practices.
A similar multi-media campaign could reinforce safe driving habits, including obeying speed limits and no texting or phone use. Maybe drivers need to be retested every 10 years on driving basics. License renewals, in some cases, could be tied to a problem driver’s ability to demonstrate improved habits.
Most drivers are alert and serious about safety. The road law scofflaws who have amassed multiple violations need more than a 25 mile an hour speed limit sign to break their bad habits.