Editorial was wrong on speed limits

New guard rails have been erected along Sea Isle Boulevard during construction.

Regarding the Jan. 4 editorial, "Sea Isle Boulevard/Slow it down":

This editorial, while well-intentioned, got it wrong. It did, however, illustrate an issue that plagues our roadways, diminishing safety and abusing drivers at the same time.

The Press called for a 25 mph speed limit on Sea Isle Boulevard during the ongoing road-elevation project. On the surface that might sound like a good idea - slower traffic has to be safer right? But the reality isn't that simple.

The first counterintuitive thing one must understand is that traffic speed isn't dictated by arbitrary speed limits. Any competent traffic engineer will tell you that the most effective speed limits - where you have the greatest compliance and safety levels - are set based on sound engineering criteria and based on the speeds people would naturally drive. Comprehensive studies invariably demonstrate that randomly increasing or decreasing speed limits by as much as 15 mph has virtually no effect on speeds. And forcing traffic to abide by arbitrary limits through oppressive enforcement doesn't provide any additional measure of safety. In fact forcing motorists to drive under the natural speed leads to increased road rage and more incidents of passing - maneuvers we don't want to encourage.

I spoke with the Cape May County engineer regarding Sea Isle Boulevard. The roadway - a very straight shot with good sight lines - was originally posted at 55 mph. It was lowered to 50 to spare folks on bikes and mopeds from being ticketed for being on a roadway posted above 50. During the construction period, engineers have recommended a 40 mph limit. That fits within federal standards and the conditions on that roadway. Lowering the limit further wouldn't effectively slow traffic down. It would increase passing attempts and would decrease the public's confidence in the legitimacy of speed limits. An artificially low limit wouldn't improve safety.

Well-meaning bureaucrats, elected officials and editorial writers should leave traffic engineering to the engineers. Traffic will move more smoothly, motorists will feel less persecuted and our roads will be safer.




Red Bank

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