The Effects of Speed Differential

Throughout history, mankind has looked to go farther, faster, and more efficiently. Trains connected America's two coasts, the automobile brought about quick regional transportation while airplanes shrank the world. Henry Ford's Model A, Ford's first passenger vehicle, had a top speed of just 28 mph; today the Ford Focus has a top speed of 138 mph, limited only by an engine governor. Texas has decided to take advantage of these increased vehicle speeds, passing legislation that would allow speed limits to be as high as 85 mph on designated highways.

While a consumer's Ford Focus may be able to easily handle 85 mph speeds, an 80,000 pound 18-wheeler does not have the same capabilities. To improve safety, control costs and reduce fuel usage, most trucks travel closer to 60-65 mph. But why is this point so important to remember? It's simple. The greater the speed differential between vehicles, the greater the risk of accidents.

We've all seen it, the driver who just can't wait, weaving in and out of traffic hoping to cut a few seconds off their morning commute and avoid any vehicle traveling slower than they are. Imagine that driver now speeding down a highway at 85 mph, ahead are two semis, one has a top speed of 60 mph, the other, 65 and preparing to pass the first. Not wanting to get slowed down in the least, our frantic driver decides to pull close to the slower truck in hopes of cutting in front of the other. Maybe the driver will make it; maybe the slower truck will tap the brakes not seeing the faster motorist in his blind spot, leading to a chain reaction.

Despite the outcome of that specific example, increased speed differences between passenger vehicles and commercial trucks are sure to lead to more situations like it. As drivers zoned out by the use of cruise control or eager to shave a few seconds off their trip don't realize how fast they are approaching the slower semi ahead, reaction time is diminished and the risk of an accident rises.

As transportation professionals, it is our duty to help inform lawmakers of the dangers that can come from higher speed differentials. After all, in our pursuit for even greater travel efficiencies, it is integral we continue to factor in the risk that comes with saving a few seconds of time.

This entry was posted on October 29th, 2012 by jhubbard and is filed under Recent News & Updates.