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Higher speed limits leading to more traffic deaths

On Behalf of | Apr 24, 2019 | Auto Accident Injuries |

Speeding is perhaps the traffic violation that nearly all of us has been guilty of at one time or another. We lead busy lives and want to get where we’re going as quickly as we can. But the time we save by speeding may not be worth the risk. Research shows that speed-related crashes claim about 10,000 lives each year in the United States.

Unfortunately, the problem has only gotten worse over the past quarter-century as most states have raised speed limits. A new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety claims that the increases have corresponded with nearly 37,000 additional deaths over the past 25 years.  

The study began by examining state speed limits in 1993 vs. 2017. In 1993, the vast majority of states had maximum speed limits of 65 mph, while about nine states were capped at 55 mph. Today, most states (including Illinois) have gone up to at least 70 mph, with six states topping out 80. Texas seems to have entirely thrown caution to the wind, allowing drivers to push up to 85 mph in some places.

After controlling for other factors, researchers calculated that increasing the speed limit by just 5 mph raised the fatality rate by 8 percent on interstates and freeways, and by 3 percent on other roads. Because the maximum speed limit increased by 5 mph in Illinois, we can assume that fatality rates have climbed by roughly the same amounts.

Speeding is dangerous because it makes a crash both more likely and more deadly. Driving faster gives you less time to react to danger when it arises – especially if distraction is also a factor. And the additional forces generated at higher speeds can turn an otherwise injurious collision into a fatal one. This is particularly noticeable in cases where cars strike pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. There is virtually nothing to absorb the impacts for these vulnerable travelers, so increased speeds make a deadly difference.

Five mph may not seem like much of a change. But consider the fact that many of us already travel above the posted speed limit (and just slow enough to avoid being pulled over). This research will hopefully cause each of us to consider if the time we save by driving faster is truly worth the risks that speeding poses to ourselves and others.