Ignoring Its Own Research, AAA Tells NYC Drivers Speeding Is No Big Deal

When a pedestrian is struck, the risk of severe injury (left) and death (right) rises dramatically as vehicle speed increases, with risks even higher for the elderly. But AAA ignores its own research and regularly opposes safer street designs and enforcement. Image: ##https://www.aaafoundation.org/sites/default/files/2011PedestrianRiskVsSpeed_0.pdf##AAA##

The American Automobile Association, often perceived as simply a non-profit that runs a friendly towing service, has lost what little credibility it had on street safety issues.

Ted Mann’s story in today’s Wall Street Journal about mayoral candidates addressing street safety has a few quotes from the local AAA chapter’s spokesperson:

Critics of some of those efforts, such as Robert Sinclair of the AAA, continue to be skeptical. The city is “plagued by bad engineering” that makes roads more dangerous, he said, and is at the mercy of trucks that supply the city’s stores. But he said bike lanes had been added “higgledy-piggledy” without regard to demand, and efforts to cut down on driver speed ignore reality.

“On some roadways in our area, the speed limit is artificially low,” he said. “Everyone’s not driving 30 miles an hour. If you did, the city might grind to a halt.”

Besides failing to employ basic logic — 30 mph, a speed limit that’s already higher than the rule in many other American cities, is by definition not grinding to a halt — Sinclair is doubling down on his organization’s pro-speeding position. “Everybody’s driving above 30. That’s the reality,” he told Streetsblog last year.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s own research [PDF] has run the numbers and reached a very different conclusion:

There is a general understanding that a pedestrian’s risk of injury or death increases as crash impact speed increases… To reduce the number of pedestrians seriously injured and killed in crashes with motor vehicles, it is necessary to reduce the risk of crashes occurring, the risk of severe or fatal outcomes in crashes, or both. In places such as residential streets and urban areas designed to allow pedestrians and vehicles to be in close proximity to one another, examples of measures to reduce vehicle speeds include traffic calming techniques such as speed bumps, lane narrowing, and changes in roadway curvature, as well as increased enforcement or reduction of speed limits.

Despite its foundation’s recommendations, AAA New York has long been an opponent of speed cameras, testifying against them at the City Council and regularly stumping against automated enforcement in the press. The group’s even used a flawed “ad-hoc survey” of eight cameras to attack the city’s red light enforcement program.

Behind the organization’s feel-good video reminding drivers that cyclists are people too, AAA regularly supports reckless policies that put all road users in danger. If arguing for unchecked speeding and unsafe road designs weren’t enough, AAA has also sought to remove cycling and pedestrian programs from funds generated by the gas tax. Any elected official standing with AAA should be laughed out of the room if they claim to support safe streets.

  • Anonymous

    Not a subtle comment, but I’m just going to say it: I hate the pro-speeding crowd. I hate them and I hate their indifference to the toll their ideologies take on the rest of us.

    Even the pro-gun folks feel obligated to go around saying we should enforce the laws we have. But these people . . .

  • Reader

    Sinclair’s logic is absurd. If lots of kids are choking on toys, it means the toys are poorly designed. It does not mean we should tolerate kids choking to death. Likewise, if people are speeding, it does not mean we should tolerate speeding. It means the roads are poorly designed!

    Sinclair is pro-death, essentially.

  • Anonymous

    Sinclair’s logic may be absurd, but so are his premises. Would NYC really grind to a halt if traffic moved at 30mph? I think the reality is, it has ALREAY ground to a halt, at speeds much lower than 30mph. Even in the middle of the night, traffic in most of Manhattan traffic is regulated by the timed traffic lights at 30mph. Sure, people speed to catch up with the wave, but not for long. I feel lucky when I can cruise through Manhattan at anything approach 30mph.

    And then there are the freeways (which don’t allow bikes or peds anyway)… I’d feel lucky to average 30mph on the Cross Bronx or BQE as well.

  • Clarke

    From the man who brought you the fact that motorists don’t break laws and the fact that honking is something people in the city look forward to hearing comes….SPEED 3: Get Outta My Way

  • Nathanael

    Very annoying. How can AAA members affect the bizarre behavior of the AAA local chapter spokespeople?

  • Nathanael

    I mean, I’m in one of the upstate chapters, which I believe are separate from the NYC chapter, but still, the question stands. AAA was a nice club for the law-abiding recreational motorist back when I joined. They should NOT be spreading bullshit.

  • Mark Walker

    The AAA is becoming increasingly like the NRA. It views driving as an unconditional right, regardless of the external costs and harm it inflicts on others.

  • Eric McClure

    The best way you can affect the behavior of AAA and its spokespeople is by requesting a refund and joining Better World Club, which provides the same roadside assistance without lobbying for death. BWC also offers roadside assistance for bikes.

  • Joe R.

    Sinclair makes absolutely no sense. Here’s a great test of whether or not you’re driving too fast: if you’re ever sitting still waiting for a red light to change, then that means you were driving too fast. Or put another way, you need to look at whether increasing your cruising speed will increase your overall average speed of travel. If all increasing your cruising speed does is to allow you to arrive at the next red light before it changes, then your were driving too fast. Ideally, you should regulate your speed so you hit traffic lights either when they’re green, or right after they’re flipping from red to green. Heck, I do this on my bike all the time. Even though I treat reds as yields, I would much rather coast up to a red light and hit it just as it flips back to green. The alternative is to needlessly waste energy getting before the light changes, only to slam on my brakes in order to reduce my speed enough to safely ascertain if it’s safe to proceed. The same logic would apply even more if I stopped and waited the full cycle at red lights. In that case, I’m not passing the intersection until the light changes, so why bother getting there while the light is still red? That just means I needlessly wasted energy. I don’t get why motorists don’t do the same thing. If you see you’re not going to make a light, or if it’s already red, adjust your speed so you won’t get to the light before it changes back to green. Granted, red light cycles are variable, but many drivers use the same roads every day. They have a good idea of the light timing. Racing to the next red light serves little purpose.

    The only place where you can seriously reduce travel time by increasing your speed is on expressways. The irony here is I’ve observed some people who drove like mad on local streets, doing the “stop light grand prix”, and then when they finally went on an expressway where they could make good time they drove like molasses.

  • krstrois

    I know an older gentleman who was an industrial designer at one of the big three in Detroit in the late 40s. He told a story at a dinner once about his early years designing cars there. He said that his bosses gave the young designers porn to watch before they went into the studio to design the cars. Watch the movie, design a super sexy car. Speeding won’t stop until it’s no longer a way to insert aggression into spaces where it doesn’t belong, in a preening way, whether it’s done consciously or unconsciously. The same goes for gun violence, frankly. We all pay the price for some person’s fear couched in “culture.” Sometimes when a guy in a fast car chases me and yells at me while I’m walking or on my bike I think of that dinner and how everyone at the table thought it was some great, hot mid-century story. I don’t really feel that way when I’m the piece of meat.

  • Joe R.

    Car design has long been a mirror into a culture. “Sexy” has largely been replaced with designs which appeal to the reptilian portion of the brain. Not surprisingly, driving habits have mirrored this appeal to basic survival instincts. The level of cooperation on roads for the common good has dropped to an all time low. People do whatever is in their best interest at the moment, without regard to the consequences to everyone else. In the end, all this pointless jockeying for position just ends up making things slower/more dangerous for everyone. Implicit in car designs which are needlessly large, overpowered, and aggressive looking is that driving like this is OK. In the end car designs have *always* compensated for the insecurities of the driver by making antisocial behavior acceptable. Even the very act of riding in an isolated metal box in an urban environment is both antisocial, and an attempt to appear “better” than the minions on the streets walking or biking. Then again, in order to get people to part with large sums for a machine which has questionable utility on its own merits, it’s probably necessary for designers to make cars which are a extension of someone’s personality. Or if not that, a representation of what they want to be. There is actually some truth in the old line that the larger the car, the smaller a certain part of the anatomy.

    I agree speeding and other equally dangerous actions won’t stop until car designers no longer try to design cars which address people’s insecurities by encouraging them to engage in behaviors they wouldn’t in any other context. The same people who might make lewd comments at you while driving by wouldn’t dream of doing the same thing in the subway, or while walking by. They only do this because their car makes them feel detached from the world. When we start making cars whose design reflects only what in necessary to get from point A to point B, then perhaps the antisocial behaviors we all see will lessen.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been a Better World Club member for over five years now. The roadside assistance is EXACTLY like AAA — same tow truck companies contracted. AND they pick up bicycles, too!

  • Bruce Dean

    “On some roadways in our area, the speed limit is artificially low,” – WTF?

    …as opposed to the “natural” speed limits we pick off the vine and serve fresh daily with a side of pedestrian and cyclist death and injury.

  • qrt145

    The natural speed limit is about 186,282.4 miles per second (671 million mph).* Anything else is arbitrary and capricious!

    *In a vacuum. In other media, you have to consider the refractive index.

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