No need for speed

April 19, 2007

Sometimes, it's an official-looking limousine that blazes by you on the highway as though you were standing still, but Lincoln Town Cars and SUVs like the 2005 Chevy Suburban that carried New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine are also common. Governor Corzine's fateful ride ended one week ago when his Suburban crashed on the Garden State Parkway and he was seriously injured. On Tuesday, officials revealed an important fact in the case: His state trooper-driven car was traveling 91 miles per hour.

Some people will no doubt find that shocking and reckless. It was clearly the latter but not necessarily the former - at least not to anyone who has ever witnessed a convoy of government VIPs.

Mr. Corzine, who wasn't wearing a seatbelt, was behind schedule for the much-anticipated meeting with disc jockey Don Imus and the Rutgers women's basketball team. In front of the governor's vehicle were two pickup trucks driving side by side in the two lanes. Both moved to the right to give way to the governor, but one swerved back into the left lane (to avoid the other pickup, whose driver feared running into an approaching mile-marker on the shoulder) and clipped the SUV, which crashed into the guardrail.

Investigators are still studying details of the incident, but driving 26 mph above the speed limit (whether it was ordered or merely countenanced) in a nonemergency situation and simultaneously not wearing a seatbelt is incredibly irresponsible.

The office of governor comes with a number of perks. One of them is a protective detail of state troopers and the comfort of knowing there isn't a police officer in your state who will ever pull you over. Yet the laws of physics still apply: Traveling so fast gives a driver, no matter how skilled, far less time to react, and when accidents do happen, the consequences are likely to be severe.

That's why speed is a factor in nearly one-third of all fatal crashes nationwide. Mr. Corzine, 60, broke multiple bones and remains hospitalized on a respirator. He has learned a painful lesson, but others should take notice, too. The federal government pegs the economic costs of speeding at more than $40 billion annually, but the worst of it is the roughly 13,000 lives lost each year to speed-related crashes. You don't have to be a politician to make that mistake; you just have to be foolish.

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