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Higher Speed Limits, More Fatalities

The 55 MPH Maximum Speed Limit

According to a report issued by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), higher speed limits result in more fatalities.  This conclusion is based on research from the years 1993 through 2013. The IIHS study looked at the results that followed the repeal of the National Maximum Speed Limit of 55 miles per hour.  That national speed limit was enacted by Congress back in the 1970s and applied to all states.   

The 55 mph speed limit was adopted in large part as a reaction to a gas shortage.  If states did not adhere to the limit, Congress threatened that federal highway funds would be withheld.  This limit was in effect throughout most of the 1970s and 1980s until the limit increased to 65 mph on rural highways in 1993.  Then, in 1995 the 55 Maximum Limit was lifted completely, which left the states to enact their own speed limits.

Does Speed Kill? 

Four years after the Maximum Limit repeal, in 1999, a study was released by IIHS revealing that rural highway fatalities following the 1987 shift to 65 mph resulted in more deaths.  It continued on to illustrate an increase in fatalities on all national highways following the total repeal of the 55 limit in 1995.

More recently IIHS has released a follow-up study examining the results of the speed limit increases from 1993 through 2013, a 20-year-period.  The recent study excluded nine states that had wild fluctuations in yearly highway death statistics, so the study focused on the 41 remaining states.  It also removed other factors that could have contributed to traffic fatalities, including the number of young drivers on the road, and the per capita consumption of alcohol.  After the exclusion of the other factors, it was determined that a four percent increase in vehicle fatalities was seen for every five miles per hour increase in the speed limit.

Data from the 41 states were analyzed and compared to that which the study model theorizes would have existed if speed limits remained the same since 1992.  The study estimates an additional 33,000 additional vehicle deaths over 20 years solely due to the increase in speed limits.  The lead researcher on the report feels that 33,000 is conservative since the study was limited to rural highways.  Speed limits on urban highways and freeways have also increased since 1993.

Additionally, changes that occurred after 1993 were obviously not included in the study.  Since then, the speed limit has increased from 75 to 80 miles per hour in five states.  Other states increased from 65 mph to 70 mph.  

Despite the findings of the report, during the same time period studied, overall vehicle fatalities have dropped due to other factors such as increased vehicle safety.  According to the IIHS study, the death rate could have been significantly lower still had the speed limits not increased.

If anything, the study provides food for thought: highway speed limits are not arbitrary – higher speeds produce real and measurable consequences.

Watch YouTube Video: Why Nobody Every Really Drives the Speed Limit. The following video explains why most drivers don’t comply with the speed limits.

Natomas Personal Injury Lawyer

I’m Ed Smith, a Natomas personal injury lawyer. If you or anyone you love has sustained personal injuries as a result of another’s negligence or recklessness, call us for free and friendly advice at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400.

My firm has worked with the Natomas community for more than 35 years.  Look over our website and our case settlements and trial verdicts and peruse our client reviews which can be found by clicking the links below:

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