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Jewish World Review Dec. 11, 2003 / 16 Kislev, 5764

Lenore Skenazy

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Why is it that speeding is still considered nothing worse than a bad habit? | Now that Rep. Bill Janklow, former governor of South Dakota, has been found guilty of manslaughter for speeding through a stop sign and killing a motorcyclist, he faces up to 11 years in prison.

Maybe he'll make license plates!

By the time he gets out, perhaps America will have learned the same lesson that he's getting: Speeding is not a victimless crime. It is every bit as evil as drunken driving. In New York City, in fact, it's worse. Drunken drivers here account for just 10% of all traffic fatalities. Speeders account for more than half.

So why is it that speeding is still considered nothing worse than a bad habit? Janklow actually admitted in his State of the State address back in 1999 that "Bill Janklow speeds. Shouldn't, but he does."

Isn't that the moral equivalent of saying, "Bill Janklow drops safes out of windows. Shouldn't, but he does." How could he get away with such disdain for everyone else's safety?

Well, there are two explanations (three, if you count: There's just something irresistible about a macho jerk). First, America is still awaiting MADDEST: Mothers Against Drunk Driving & Everyone Speeding, Too. Feel free to start a chapter. I'll join.

Second, America also awaits the rebirth of its driver's ed program, currently on life support.

As for a new Mothers Against etc., etc., clearly it is time for moms or other angry Americans to start stigmatizing speeders the same way MADD stigmatized drunken drivers. Already, Western European countries have done this, to great effect.

"There is much lower tolerance for bad driving there," says John Kaehny, director of Transportation Alternatives. "As a result, the U.S. is now the ninth-safest country to drive in, and not the first, as it was in the '50s and '60s."

How did Europe slow its drivers down? In England, the government ran a campaign, "Kill your speed - not a child." It was so successful that if we had the same fatality rate as England, 8,500 fewer Americans would die each year. England also installed a huge number of roadside cameras to catch and ticket speeders. London alone has 600. New York City has 50. 'Nuff said.

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The other half of the equation, meanwhile, is to bring back driver's ed. Just 30 years ago, says Frank Niland, an instructor with the New York chapter of the American Automobile Association, there were about 500 high school driver's ed programs in the 14 counties his group covers. "Today," he says, "we have 54." In New York City, there's only one program as part of a high-school curriculum - and that's at a private school. This means a whole generation isn't learning the kind of road responsibility that could save lives.

Janklow's conviction shows that speeding is on its way to becoming taboo. But it's not getting there fast enough.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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