Speed limit increases cause 33,000 deaths in 20

Dec 2013
Beware of watermelons
new IIHS study shows that increases in speed limits over two decades have cost 33,000 lives in the U.S. In 2013 alone, the increases resulted in 1,900 additional deaths, essentially canceling out the number of lives saved by frontal airbags that year.

"Although fatality rates fell during the study period, they would have been much lower if not for states' decisions to raise speed limits," says Charles Farmer, IIHS vice president for research and statistical services and the author of the study.

Maximum speed limits are set by the states, and they have been on the rise since 1995. However, during most of the 1970s and 1980s, the threat of financial penalties held state speed limits to 55 mph.

In 1973, Congress required that states adopt 55 mph as their maximum speed limit in order to receive their share of highway funds. Concerns over fuel availability, rather than safety, had prompted Congress to pass the measure, known as the National Maximum Speed Limit, but the most dramatic result was a decrease in fatalities.

In 1987, with energy concerns fading, Congress relaxed the restriction, allowing states to increase speed limits to 65 mph on rural interstates. The law was completely repealed in 1995.

Proponents of raising the speed limit often argue that such increases simply bring the law in line with reality, since most drivers exceed the limit. Once the limit is raised, however, drivers go even faster.

Not surprisingly, Institute researchers found that travel speeds increased following the repeal of the National Maximum Speed Limit (see Status Report special issue: speed, Jan. 31, 2008). They also found that fatalities went up, first on rural interstates with the law's partial repeal and later on all interstates after the full repeal (see "Deaths go up on interstate highways where higher speed limits are posted," Jan. 16, 1999).

The increases have continued apace. Today, six states have 80 mph limits, and drivers in Texas can legally drive 85 mph on some roads.

Higher speed limits lead to more deaths
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