Speeding: A Quick Way To Get More Than You Bargained For

by golbguru on February 13, 2007

infite speed limitI have been thinking about this for quite some time. I think about this every time I hit the freeway and involuntarily increase my speed up to 5 ~ 10 miles per hour above the legal limit. I thought really hard about this when I got my last speeding ticket about 3.5 years ago for driving 19 mph above the limit. Finally, I have made up mind to write about it….just needed to flush those numbers out of my system. I will probably qualify for the smart-ass of the year award for this post. Whatever.

Speeding to save time?

Let’s look at some typical scenarios and see how much time we save by speeding to our destination. I have considered three cases that most of us would usually come across:

  • Case 1: short distance, low speed limit - This applies for most in-town driving. Clearly, speeding in this case makes no sense at all. In the chart below, look at the time saved by going 20 mph above the limit…just 5 minutes ! Doesn’t seem like it’s worth it, does it? Plus, if you drive at 60 mph in a 40 mph zone, you will be noticed (by cops perhaps). Also, in some areas/cities, the traffic lights are synchronized in such way that, if you drive 10 mph over the limit, you will keep hitting red lights often.

speeding on a 10 mile stretch

  • Case 2: medium distance, high speed limit - This applies more to situations when you are driving to a nearby town/city. Most of us will generally prefer the freeway for such distances and hence the 70 mph speed limit. If you are like me, you would probably start cruising at 5~10 mph over the speed limit. But look at the graph below. Going 10 mph above the speed limit is saving you just a little more than 5 minutes. You could potentially take less time by speeding more, but you need to look at the risk analysis (scroll down for that) before you do that.

speeding on a 50 mile stretch

  • Case 3: long distance, high speed limit - This is about driving to a far away town/city. Alright ! so this time you can save 19.29 minutes by driving at 80 mph instead of 70 mph. This one sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Well, if you look at it with only a slightly practical point of view, this doesn’t sound very promising either. You will save 19.29 minutes if you drive constantly at 80 mph for the full 180 miles. In all probability, over longer distances, your average driving speed may be well below 80 mph, considering general traffic, road conditions, traffic lights, etc. You may occasionally pump it to 80 mph, but then that’s not going to save you the full 19.29 minutes. :)

speeding on a 180 mile stretch

Speeding vs. risk, a trade-off
Risk is a inseparable part of the speeding package. To really make sense of whether speeding is worth the time saved, we should look at the risks involved. First, let’s look at the risk of getting a speeding ticket in the event that you have a speed measuring laser pointed at your vehicle. The graph shown below is just to give you a feel of how the risk changes with speeding. Note that, there are different laws in different states and this may not be specifically apply to you. More details about state-specific laws can be found here.

probability of getting a speeding ticket

Btw, if you are mathematically inclined, I have used a sigmoid function to draw this graph and assumed that the chance of getting a ticket, when driving 10 mph above limit, is 50%. This particular graph is for a 70 mph speed limit, but you can apply it to any speed limit. OK, all this is a bit geeky, but stay with me here. :) The point is to show that about 5~6 mph above the speed limit you probably won’t get pulled over for speeding (some states even have official tolerances in this zone). However, beyond this, your luck will start vanishing very rapidly. If you desperately want to speed, your best chances of not getting caught are in Zone 1 and Zone 2 (when you are not going more than 10 mph above the speed limit).

Now, go back to the charts that showed the time gain and look up the time gained by driving just 10 mph above the limit in all of them. Do you still find it worth?

More risks and costs

If you are still not convinced, let me throw some hackneyed reasons at you. May be, against the above background, these things will make a greater effect here.

  • Accidents: risk to life - You must have heard this a zillion times. Speeding is just not safe. Speed limits are put up for a reason…they are not just there to frustrate the hell out of you. Some people probably must have spent their lives trying to determine the optimal speed limits for certain roads. Show them some respect.

accidents due to speeding

  • Fuel: cost of increased consumption - Speeding costs money. Here is a some sort of a quantification by the government (here is the source):

    As a rule of thumb, you can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.20 per gallon for gas.

  • Tickets: cost of fines - Most fines hover in the range of $70 to $150 when you are speeding between 0-20 mph over the limit. Plus, there are court fees and other associated costs (like a driving safety course fee) involved when you get a ticket.
  • More monetary loss: cost of insurance - You won’t be very happy with your insurance premiums if you have a couple of tickets sticking in your driving record. Of course, all tickets don’t lead to this, but you should keep this in mind.
  • The cost of lost peace of mind: There are other intangible costs that go beyond monetary values, like stress while driving, stress after getting a speeding ticket, overall loss of time if you are required to go to court and stuff, etc.

You could reduce some/all speeding ticket associated risks by using radar detectors and such, but those things won’t warn you of an impending accident risk on account of your speeding. :)

Or you could just relax, drive within speed limits, and enjoy your driving. I think I am going to try doing just that.

Infinite speed limit image source: www.continuum2.com

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gaming the Credit System 02.13.07 at 12:19 pm

Hahaha, this is a great post! I love it! It sounds like something out of Freakonomics.

I usually speed around 5mph faster than the speed limit on highways, and I keep it pretty close to the limit on city streets. However, when people are speeding all around me (e.g. 80mph in a 60mph zone on an urban freeway) I will bump it up higher. In those situations I just make sure that 1) there are people in front of me who are going faster and 2) there is not an uninterrupted line of sight for a long distance behind me. Cops can laser you from behind just as easily as they can from the front.

Also, always be on the lookout for brake lights ahead. Most people will brake when they see a cop, even if they’re not speeding. Especially when going over a hill or around a corner, this can save you a ticket.

For me, speeding is rarely about getting anywhere faster… it’s the speed itself that excites me viscerally.

2 golbguru 02.13.07 at 12:39 pm

Yeah…I should have mentioned the adrenaline rush as a factor too…however, I don’t have any good graphs to show for that one. ;) Also, I don’t have any good explanation that will help people control that rush except for telling them to look for an *safer* alternative. But when things are *safer* adrenaline doesn’t pump up that much..so that’s not of much help either.

3 Juan Million (1mil) 02.13.07 at 1:29 pm

You know I drive 80mph in the carpool lane lol. I’m a lucky SOB to be getting away with it for more than 2 months now lol. Metered lights? What are those lol..

What about if you’re going too slow?
http://millionster.com/articles/commentary/standing-in-the-way/

4 jon postal 02.13.07 at 5:39 pm

You kill me with your charts…I love them! I have also given this same issue a lot of thought over the years (since my first ticket which was also my last ticket).

While we are on this topic let me throw this out there…here is a theory I have been developing.

I have observed that the majority of people who speed (excessively) typically drive poorly maintained “junker” cars. Why is it that speeders drive junkers? I think I have an answer.

People who speed have less self-control. Bold statement? Think about it for a second…you speed for one of two reasons: 1. You are running late because you lack the self-control to leave on time.
2. You want to get somewhere NOW! You don’t want to wait (low self-control).
In both cases you are displaying low self-control.

My theory is that if you display low self-control with speeding there is a good chance you have low self-control in other areas of your life…ie. your finances. This explains the poorly maintained “junker” car. (Of course you could be driving a junker because you have excellent financial skills and you realize that driving a new car is a waste of money…in this case my theory is wrong!)

I’m sorry if I have offended anybody, but that is my opinion and I am sticking to it!

Jon

5 Josh 02.13.07 at 5:52 pm

I don’t know if this is 100% accurate, but I love that this encourages being polite:

http://amasci.com/amateur/traffic/traffic1.html

6 Ellen 02.13.07 at 7:46 pm

Speeding? Speeding? Vat is dis speeding you speak ov?

I like the charts! But the only time I ever get to speed, even a little, is at midnight when the university library kicks me out, because where I live, the streets are always covered in (a) ice or (b) tourists–sometimes both. But it would definitely apply when we make it out of town. :)

7 ispf 02.13.07 at 9:14 pm

This was exactly the point the better half tried to make me understand a few years back, but I wouldn’t listen. What can I say, I liked to speed. Then I got a ticket. Then I got another. Then I stopped :) I couldnt sit through any more defensive driving classes (i swear, there’s a reason why they make ‘em so boring - even when its at the comedy club!) Been “clean” for over four years now! These days, I stay within +/- 5 miles of the speed limit. Better for the fuel economy too.

8 Bryan 02.14.07 at 11:36 am

There are some errors, common myths, in your post. See the Arizona DOT
http://www.azdot.gov/Highways/traffic/Speed.asp
as one good rundown on speed limits.

9 golbguru 02.14.07 at 12:13 pm

Bryan: thanks for the link to Arizona DOT. Here are my thoughts on the information they have given:

I find two contradictory pieces of information on the website. First, they say the following “widely held misconceptions“:

1. Speed limit signs will slow the speed of traffic.

2. Speed limit signs will decrease the accident rate and increase safety.

And then they say:

Speed zoning in Arizona is based on the widely accepted principle of setting speed limits as near as practicable to the speed at or below which 85 percent of the drivers are traveling.This speed is subject, of course, to downward revision based upon such factors as: accident experience, roadway geometrics, and adjacent development.

So they do revise speed limits based on accident experience and road geometrics. And the purpose of this revision would be to post new revised speed limits, right? Now, why should they bother doing that if they believe that speed limit signs will not change the situation?

Next, the website says:

Contrary to popular belief, speed in itself is not a major cause of accidents. In fact, there is a consensus of professional opinions that many speed-related accidents result from both excessively low and high speeds.

- While speed may not be a major fundamental cause of accidents, it increases the severity of an accident and makes matters worse. It also increases your braking distance and reduces your response time in the event of an unexpected scenario (tire bursts, sudden lane changing by cars in front of you..and other similar situations). Also, I am not encouraging people to drive at excessively low speeds…just drive according to the speed limit posted. :)

May be I am totally missing your point here. In that case, I will be glad if you can shine some light on this matter.

My way of looking at speed limits is that they are meant for the reason of public safety…and we should follow them. Thats the premise of this article too.

10 golbguru 02.14.07 at 12:36 pm

ISPF: I glad you are wiser now. :)

Ellen: I can understand that. I am in a similar boat since the semester has started.

Josh: I am not sure about that particular link (meaning, I am not intelligent enough to figure out the accuracy), but there are a few professors in our university who study “traffic dynamics”…and that stuff does seem very familiar.

Jon: Your self-control theory makes sense :)…However, I would not connect that to junker car logic. :)

Juan Million: Yep, going *too* slow causes accidents too. Btw, 55 mph in the right lane is not that bad on a 70 mph road. However, I would hate the guy if he is going at that speed just for fuel efficieny reasons. But, may be that guy is better than the jackrabbit trying fly through a busy road at 95 mph.

11 Kevin 03.19.07 at 6:00 am

For some reason I am able to think like this on long trips — I still do about 5 mph over to shave some time, especially on longer trips. I just don’t think about it when I’m in town.

I would have to question the government figures about 55mph being the ideal speed on the simple fact that they are government numbers. When was that put in place, does it still apply to newer engines? I don’t know the answer…

12 samerwriter 03.19.07 at 6:31 pm

A few years back, I drove from Portland to San Francisco to see a friend, then drove back. The total distance was about 700 miles, and the speed limit varied from 55 to 70mph. I finished the drive in about 9 hours (~78mph) at about 15mpg. (In reality the average speed was probably lower, because I had to stop to fill up on gas).

On the way home, I intentionally stayed at between 55 and 60 _the entire way_. I put my truck on cruise control, and took in the scenery. The drive took me nearly 13 hours, and I averaged about 20mpg (which meant I didn’t have to stop for gas).

That 4 hours was the most peaceful drive I’ve ever had. I saw plenty of police officers, and never once worried that they were going to come after me.

I’ve since returned to my speeding ways; I don’t buy that there isn’t time saved. On highways there certainly is, and the benefits of speeding in many urban environments are magnified if you can hit a yellow light. An extra mph or 5 may save you several minutes of waiting at a red light (waiting, idling, burning gas…)

13 golbguru 03.20.07 at 2:21 pm

Kevin: Whether or not the limits are outdated…some of the logic still applies. :) If you speed too much you increase your chances of getting a ticket…if you speed only a little bit…then you are not saving enough time to justify that speeding. :) As far as I can see, speed limits are updated (at least in my county) like every few years (although I have never seen an increase in the speed limit…all changes were to decrease the limit in certain stretches.)

14 CaliforniaDonna 04.12.07 at 10:32 am

Great article. Loved the charts. California did a study when the increased the speeding limit from 55 to 65, the accident rate stayed the same but the fatality rate doubled. When increased from 65 to 75 the accident rate stayed the same but the fatality rate tripled.

15 John Jay 08.16.07 at 11:47 am

My foot has the “muscle memory” thing going on such that only under emergency situations (see: merging onto the highway) do I accelerate over 2000 rpms on my 4-speed automatic. It takes me a while to accelerate, but I do eventually get up to around 5 mph over the limit in town. What’s amazing is that 85%+ of the time I wind up stuck at lights behind the same people I was behind before- meaning that in my zip code a jackrabbit start does nothing but waste gas and money. Makes me laugh- all the way to the bank!

I like your chart. I think the concept is somewhat sound, but the actual numbers obviously depend on the location, # of cops, etc etc. I think that the baseline shouldn’t be the limit, but the mph you are traveling faster than the average car. If you’re going 75 in a 60 zone and everyone else is doing 85, who’s the cop going to ticket?

For relatively deserted roads, however, your methodology is probably more accurate.

16 bob 11.06.07 at 4:09 pm

I don’t get it, may parts of Europe have speed limits ~ 80mph. What is it with Americans and the 55 limit being the best thing ever?
And honestly, citing the California statistic about the death rate…WHO CARES! Seriously, deaths a fact, get over it. If you want to “feel” safer take the side roads then.

17 Admin 12.01.07 at 8:44 am

The information presented in one of the comments from the Arizona DOT is right on target, and matches studies from Australia, Germany, and even the US NHTSA. There is nothing whatsoever contradictory in the statements from Arizona DOT that speed limit signs do not show an effect on the speeds actually driven. (IE people ignore speed limits that make no sense) Nor is they anything contradictory in setting speed limits based on the 85th percentile speed, which is the new standard and required legal setting per the Manual Of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

Further, it should be highly noted that your graph of time savings for driving 10 MPH over the limit on a highway zoned at 70 MPH equates to a 10% savings in time. For a 400 mile trip a difference of 15 MPH equates to a time savings of a hour. And, that is combined with the US NTHSA data which shows that driving 5 MPH over the 85th percentile speed is the speed with the best safety.

Certainly there should be a good cause for rational speed limits set to the legal requirement of posting limits at the 85th percentile speed. But, where can you find highways in which the zone is set at 70 MPH? Much less ANY zone that is set based on the MUTCD requirement of posting limits based on the 85th percentile speed?

It is only when speed limits are based on sound traffic safety engineering and posted on the proven 85th percentile speed measurement principal that speed limits are worth even considering. When speed limits are posted on State guidelines designed to increase revenue at the cost of safety, it is in each driver’s interests to ignore the limit and instead drive in the safest manner possible, not in the legal manner.

18 Alan 01.02.08 at 12:56 pm

I guess you have never driven in europe. we drive one heck of alot faster than you guys so save plenty of time. Plus on the autobahn in germany there are no speedlimits on many sections.

but the quality of the roads must play a factor as they are very poor here in ireland and with the increase in traffic people have been putting their foot down and the result has been carnage!

like the site btw!

19 Tpr76 05.26.08 at 4:51 pm

I’m a State Trooper and I have a few cents to throw in:

1. I like your graph and its well thought out but I think it would apply mostly to town/county law enforcement. In small towns or rural areas you’re not going to have the same traffic flow and density therefore you (as the officer) have to lower your speed tolerance. Having conducted the majority of my speed enforcement on the Interstate my tolerance is much higher. Im not even looking at vehicles doing 5-10mph over the limit. I’m watching for the high rollers..the people doing 20+ over the limit. Also, I’d like to add that I’m not a shrub ninja. Im not hiding behind billboards or being sneaky. If someone is doing 15-20 or higher over the speed limit and they fail to notice a marked police vehicle in plain sight on the fast shoulder of the road and reduce their speed –> there is a problem. In short my tolerance was based as such:

1-10mph over - Never stopped a car for speeding in this range.

10-15mph - If its a pace (where your vehicle and my vehicle are traveling in the same direction and I obtain your speed by matching mine to yours) you’ll have my attention. If its laser you’ll be flagged down for 15mph and over.

15-20mph - You’ll be stopped without question. I HAVE written warnings for speeds in this range but they are few and far between. My decision to cite/warn is based on your driving record, whether or not I had to wave my arms like a madman to get your attention away from your cell phone, and yes, your attitude. I dont expect someone to admit guilt or apologize and I never ask someone if they know why I stopped them. On that note, if I stop you for doing 15mph+ over and you act befuddled as to why you were stopped that makes me less inclined towards a warning. No admissions are necessary but being pleasant, polite, and keeping your hands in view go a long long way. My main goal every shift is to home to my daughter in one piece..not ruin someones day or make their life more difficult.

If your speed was 20mph+ you are getting a citation no ifs, ands, or buts. To give a break on that kind of speed is beyond the scope of my discretion but if you have a really really good lawyer / perfect driving record / take a driver improvement course you do have a chance with a judge taking pity on you.

To those of you that have been ticketed before maybe this might make you feel better: I once stopped a Mazda sports car that was racing a Yamaha R1 motorcycle on a major county roadway. I managed to get the car stopped after getting a quick pace of 130mph/50mph zone. Driver already has 5pts on his license, with a 6 year-old boy in the backseat, no seatbelt. Shows up to court, with no lawyer, and the judge dropped the maximum points and fine on him. Everyone else in the courtroom seemed to feel much better about how much they had been speeding :)

20 Steve 11.22.09 at 10:16 am

You should do a study of in town speeding, factoring in timed stoplights. My intuition is that the timing of the stoplight foils any minor attempts to speed. Every stretch of road, intersection will have different results and may vary with time of day and/or traffic density but underlying that noise I think you’ll uncover a trend.

If you have a need for speed, take it to the track just once, and you’ll realize how SLOW you actually are and will find speeding on the street futile and unfulfilling.

21 Mini Vibrator 10.30.12 at 10:17 pm

You are right.

Speed save our time but one more thing always remember.

Some one wait for you at your Home.

With speed ,safety is our motto.

So be careful with your life.

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