Josh Barro: 30mph Speed Limits More Dangerous Than ISIS

Recently, brave truth-teller Josh Barro took to twitter to explain the real way to save American lives.

What would save more American lives: Smiting ISIS, or cutting the speed limit in New York City from 30 to 25?

— Josh Barro (@jbarro) August 27, 2014

Leaving aside that it’s always a good idea to spice up your asinine comments with a logical fallacy, every aspect of that sentence is wrong. Not that it’s shocking coming from Barro whose leitmotif is best described as “be a dick.” And it is tempting to respond in kind.

But conservatives, actual conservatives and not those who play one at the New York Times, must learn a new path.

I suggest aikido, a martial art that “focuses not on punching or kicking opponents, but rather on using their own energy to gain control of them or to throw them away from you.” Sure, we could just post out Barro’s moral obtuseness and call him an ignorant jackass, and it would be satisfying, but it’s better to just take his energy and redirect it such that he ends up on the ground instead of at the New York Times. Or is that an example of tomato tomahto? Never mind. Moving on.

Current figures put ISIS’ death toll at 5,500. That’s just for the first six months of 2014. Granted, that’s mostly Syrians and Yazidis and not Americans.

James Foley could not be reached for comment.

Perhaps, though, Barro does have a point. American involvement in foreign affairs is certainly a hot topic and smiting ISIS, though awesome because removing pure evil from the world is pretty satisfying, won’t save many American lives. So why not a reduction in the speed limit in New York? Other than the aforementioned false equivalence.

Well for starters, this doesn’t exactly bode well for Barro’s thesis.

In this fascinating public experiment, a German town wanted to see what would happen to traffic flow if they got rid of street signs, lights and other restrictions.  The results are intuitive, but not what you would expect!  Everything got safer and faster.  Would this model hold true for other areas of infrastructure?  Drivers must give way to the left and not drive too fast.  That’s the only rule.  Even the police love the new system, and best of all, people are safer on the road.  Drivers are much more aware and use eye contact and instincts.  People WANT to stop for other people and help things move more efficiently. 

Must be a one-off. Surely without the benevolent hand of our elite thought-leaders, traffic, as life, would suffer entropy and devolve into a Manichean battle between pedestrians and those of us who think “Top Gear” should be mandatory viewing.

Absent an “Omega Man” style apocalypse, the streets of New York will never be empty enough to be the Autobahn. But were such an apocalpse to happen, would the new Charlton Heston be able to race about without slamming into a zombie?

A 2008 report by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) found that of the 645 road deaths in Germany in 2006, 67% occurred on on motorway sections without limits and 33% on stretches with a permanent limit. The fact that 33% of German motorways have a permanent limit and 67% have either a temporary limit or none means that these figures, at first glance, show that having a speed limit does not the lower the number of fatalities on motorways. But as ETSC note: ‘this similarity of percentages takes no account of traffic volumes on different sections.’

Granted, the above is about car accidents and not pedestrians. Speaking of, how many New York pedestrians are killed annually? In 2013, 286 died in from being struck. 2014 will likely produce a higher number. As with fatalities from traffic accidents, though, the stats don’t paint a complete picture. Were drugs or alcohol involved? What was the age and mental condition of the driver or pedestrian? Was there a mechanical failure of any sort?

In other words, we have some statistics, but not a complete story.

And this is why it’s important to gather data, but not assume you can wonk your way into perfect policy via that data. It’s a starting point, a way to figure out what the bigger picture is. Unless your point is to just be a dick who makes silly pronouncements because being a provocateur is how you earn your keep. If that’s the case, then keep on keepin’ on. But if you really want to save lives, and put people to work, I have a better solution.

But how many more lives could be saved by completely abolishing cars and switching to rickshaws?

— Rich Cromwell (@rcromwell4)

Photo from Flickr user Social Media Week