admin's picture

Slower speed limits, lower fatality rate

By Brett Kelman

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 3, 2012) – Although the island's speed limits are lower than most, a local motorist is more than twice as likely to get in a collision on Guam than in the average American town.

There are about 19 collisions per year for every 1,000 American motorists, but there are about 40 collisions per year for every 1,000 Guam motorists, according to five-year averages compiled from Federal Highway Safety Administration reports.

If you tally crashes reported to local police -- spanning from mere dents and dings to traffic fatalities -- Guam racks up more than 6,000 crashes per year, according to annual Department of Public Works reports.

There were only 5,618 crashes in 2010, which is the first time the total has dipped below 6,000 in about a decade.

"It is far too many," said Robert Michael, a local resident who teaches defensive driving courses. "For an island with a 35 mph speed limit, it is just too much."

Fatalities lower

These statistics were compiled using collision reports from 2004 to 2010, which are the most up-to-date reports provided by Public Works and the Federal Highway Safety Administration. Despite the fact that Guam's collision rate is twice the national average, the reports show that the island is below average in fatal collisions.

Since 2002, Guam has averaged about 17 traffic-related deaths per year. An average American town of the same size would be expected to record about 19.5 traffic-related deaths, the statistics show.

In an average American town, about 30 percent of the fatal accidents would be the result of drunk driving, the federal report states. About 40 percent of Guam's fatal accidents were related to drunk driving between 2002 and 2010, the reports state.

Regardless, the tragic loss of life is not the only price of Guam's high rate of traffic collisions.


During a recent public hearing at the Legislature, Michael called on senators to strengthen a proposed ban on using cellphones while driving. While testifying, he explained that every crash costs the government for emergency vehicle fuel, medical supplies, damage to public property and even unpaid hospital bills.

Michael said Friday that these factors put a price tag on every crash, although GovGuam doesn't keep track of what it is.

"It is costing our government and costing us also," Michael said yesterday. "Aside from just the human factor, there is a financial factor on individual families, on businesses and on our government."

Additionally, because Guam is small, there are a limited number of routes to take wherever you are going, so the flow of traffic is more fragile, Michael said, and the congestion caused by a collision can be far-reaching.

Many local motorists have experienced the ramifications of a crash on Marine Corps Drive. A fender bender in Hagåtña can slow rush-hour traffic from Santa Rita from a crawl to a dead stop.

Michael said yesterday that he believes the reason for Guam's high accident rate is a combination of factors, but police enforcement isn't the problem. Police wrote almost 15,000 tickets in fiscal year 2010, according to the Judiciary's annual report.

"So the officers are out there writing tickets," Michael said. "They are doing their enforcement part of it. But what is happening? This is a revolving door. The (costs) on Guam are not very much compared to the states."

License revoked

In April, the Judiciary of Guam increased speeding penalties to $6 per-mile per-hour over the speed limit. Previously, the rate was $4 per-mph over the limit.

That means a local driver who is caught going 50 mph on Marine Corps Drive could be fined $90. A motorist who is driving 100 mph would be fined about $390.

However, in most of America, the penalties would be much higher, and motorists also would have to worry about putting points on their license, Michael said.

In most states, each ticket amounts to points on a person's license and once those points exceed a set limit, the license is taken away for a year, Michael said.

Guam has no such point system, although local law gives judges the option to revoke licenses of repeat offenders.

"Theoretically, you can get 10 speeding tickets in a year," Michael said. "I will tell you this -- I personally know people who have had four or five speeding tickets in a year. They just pay the money and mosey on."

Driving courses

Michael also said he believes defensive driving courses could lower the number of collisions on local roads.

These courses have been known to reduce the likelihood of an accident by as much as 21 percent, he said. Michael works for Guam Public Safety Educators, which operates out of an office in Tamuning.

Pacific Daily News:

Rate this article: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Add new comment