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Thread: A Cop Who Runs Cannonballs Explains Why Speed Alone Doesn't Kill

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    A Cop Who Runs Cannonballs Explains Why Speed Alone Doesn't Kill

    A Cop Who Runs Cannonballs Explains Why Speed Alone Doesn't Kill
    He's had a 25-year career in law enforcement and investigated thousands of crashes, but he's not convinced that lower speed limits will solve anything.

    DEC 12, 2019

    With all this talk about Cannonball records of late, a lot of people must be thinking that the police will surely apprehend those brazen scofflaws in short order. Perhaps. Plenty of us have met the type of traffic enforcement officer who seems personally offended by speeds over the posted limit. Those officers—and many department protocols—are backed up by all sorts of reports and statistics suggesting that speed kills.

    But like so many things, the "speed kills" position is an opinion, even if it is backed up by certain statistical data. Police officers, like the rest of humanity, hold a variety of opinions where the particulars of their jobs are concerned. Also, some of them like cars, and some of them like driving cars fast.

    James Snow, who supervises the traffic enforcement division of a certain police department—for his sake, we'll say it’s part of a large law enforcement agency in Southern California—is just such a person. Although he has investigated tens of thousands of motor vehicle crashes over a 25-year career in law enforcement, Snow's views regarding speed and speed limits aren't anything like the admonitions dished out by organizations like the Governor's Highway Safety Association. For starters, he disagrees with the "speed kills" philosophy dished out by the GHSA and other road safety advocates.

    "The overwhelming majority of collisions are caused by a failure to yield, not by speed," he said in an interview with Road & Track. "Over the past decade, one of the primary reasons for collisions has been driver inattention. With the advent of the cell phone, the number of fatal crashes has skyrocketed."

    Snow is a board member with the Cannonball Memorial Run, an organization that raises money for the families of police officers killed in the line of duty, by staging a cross-country drive visiting the fallen officers' departments. (It's based upon the original Cannonball Run, but the Memorial is not a race.) He has also participated in the C2C Express, an illegal Cannonball-style race begun in 2015 that had its final event this year. His team in the 2019 run was called The Regulators, because all of them were police officers. They drove a rat rod '49 Pontiac Silver Streak that Snow had modified with a Chevrolet V-8, overdrive automatic transmission and pickup truck rear axle.

    "I think a lot of people have the misconception that cops are these robots who see things in black and white," he said. "But we're human beings, too, and even though we've made the decision to hold the line between the ugly things in life and the rest of society, at the end of the day, we're just like everyone else and [we] like a lot of the same things."

    In his case, common ground with some of his civilian brethren centers around wrenching on old cars and driving across the country as quickly as mechanical equipment and driver ability will allow. He grew up working on cars with his dad, and works with a lot of folks with the same automotive background. As for fast driving, Snow says that speed isn't what kills people, it's the change in speed that comes from certain types of accidents. T-bone crashes, for example, are often fatal regardless of speed, because the human aorta is not able to handle the force of a sudden sideward thrust, and can rip, causing the victim to bleed to death almost instantly.

    "We see plenty of fatal accidents that happen at 25 to 30 mph," he said. "In fact, the majority of fatalities we handle happen between vehicles that are traveling at the speed limit."

    He also points out that drunk driving is still a major problem. If you dig through the reams of traffic fatality data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drunk driving is still listed as the leading cause of traffic fatalities. It stood at 29 percent of the total in 2018 (the last full year reported). Distracted and drowsy driving accounted for 12 percent of deaths, and "speeding-related" accidents for 26 percent. However the manner in which accidents are reported to the federal government doesn't allow for much detail about speed other than the standard phrase, "speed was a factor."

    Compare that to Germany. The Autobahn still has unrestricted speed zones in many rural areas, and there's every indication that it's safer than most American interstate highways, where left lane passing and tailgating laws frequently go unenforced. According to the World Health Organization, there are about four traffic deaths per 100,000 people in Germany, compared to nearly 12 per 100,000 in the US.

    Other than cracking down on cellphone use behind the wheel, Snow says improving driver education is a great way to reduce collisions and their aftermath. As it stands, new drivers don't get much instruction before they're handed a license and sent out onto public roads behind the wheel of a two-ton missile. His department works with the California Highway Patrol to offer teen drivers some of the knowledge they don't get in regular driver's ed. It's all classroom instruction, and covers topics like perception reaction time, speed, the effects of impaired driving, tailgating, and what to do when you get in an accident.
    I wouldn't call myself a cannonballer but I do drive fast. I always leave a huge gap between myself and the next car (which gets filled in, sadly). What I see are inattentive drivers, following too closely, rolling stops, and abrupt lane changes.

    Road and Track
    "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."

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    It's the sudden stop, really.

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    I am the cat who walks by himself. And all places are alike to me.

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