The Greatest Challenge to Traffic Safety? It’s Not Residential Speed Limits

By John A. Charles, Jr.

Last week the Oregon House of Representatives passed HB 2682, which will allow Portland to lower traffic speeds on residential streets from 25 MPH to 20 MPH. This was hailed as an important step towards reaching the city’s goal of zero traffic fatalities by 2025, but in reality the bill is mostly symbolic.

First, HB 2682 only affects residential streets. Most traffic fatalities occur on higher-speed arterials.

Second, reducing travel speed is just one of many factors in traffic safety, and not always the most important. According to the 2015 Portland Traffic Safety Report, 54% of fatal crashes involve alcohol or drugs. When pedestrians are involved, 30% of fatalities involve either an intoxicated walker or driver.

Traffic speed is a factor, but 80% of Portland’s fatalities and serious injuries occur on the 19% of roadways that are posted at 30 MPH or higher. None of those roads will be affected by HB 2682.

The ubiquitous use of digital devices by motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians represents the greatest new challenge to traffic safety. Unfortunately, people who would rather text than watch the road are unlikely to be helped by a law that reduces speeds in quiet neighborhoods from slow to slower.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

  • Bob Clark

    What a joke reducing speed limit sign posts down to 20 mph from 25. These government bozos can’t even enforce the current 25 mph limit, let alone 20. The police themselves will probably routinely break 20 mph. It was the same thing with cell phones. It’s basically not enforced much as evidenced by recent survey of traffic cam issued tickets showing a very high percentage of the people having a cell phone out. Then there’s the do gooder age restriction on tobacco smoking to 21 from 18. These smokers will find a way around the nanny state stuff.

  • Oregon Engineer

    unfortunately this type of bozo legislation is not limited to the D’s. The R’s are just as active in the area of see what I did to protect you? aka nanny state. and they seem proud of it.

  • mike rose

    Salem blindly follows Portland thinking the “Vision Zero” grand plan of speed reduction and other 2 wheel and “traffic-calming” solutions will reduce pedestrian crashes. Pedestrians….cell-phone distracted or not, are naive, thinking that drivers are watching out for them. They blindly step out into traffic, feeling they have the right of way. Right of way or not, stepping into moving traffic is suicidal. When I was a kid, we were taught to look both ways and wait for traffic to clear before venturing into the street. My vision remains clear, and I’ve yet to get zeroed out thinking a motorist is looking out for me, let alone Portland or Salem.

  • Guess Who

    If they get it low enough maybe people will ride the train or bus instead of driving

    • This is your pilot speaking

      Reducing the speed limit will only cause more air pollution. The same with bus traffic.