Some want a speed limit increase when there’s more distracted driving, texting on roads than ever — and vital safety cushions to prevent a car crash are diminished
A major push is already well underway across the country for a speed limit raise.
In 2015, alone, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming increased their speed limits to 80 mph and Washington’s went up to 75 mph, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Even my own state of Michigan has gotten into the “fast lane,” enacting new laws in January 2017 that increase the freeway maximum speed limit to 75 mph and that allow trucks and school buses to drive faster.
The sad part here is that these lawmakers who are pushing for speed limit increases aren’t listening to the research about how dangerous this is — and on how many more people will die with a faster speed limit.
This is sad and tragic because in their rush to push for a speed limit increase they’re ignoring the reasons why this is such a bad idea.
As an attorney who has helped injured car crash victims and for more than 20 years, I’ve seen what the research already shows: speed kills.
What really alarms me is the dangerous combination of speed and distracted driving.
As I wrote in my blog post, “Faster speed limits = more traffic crash deaths”:
“The reason I’ve been opposed to [allowing people to drive faster] is that we’re talking about increasing speed limits at the same time we’re seeing literally an epidemic of texting and driving car accidents and other forms of distracted driving – often tied to technology – wreaking havoc. In my own cases, the defendants are often talking on cell phones, texting or, yes, surfing the web instead of watching the road in front of them. Increasing speed limits now takes away that vital safety cushion between perception and reaction for drivers who are often already distracted by phones.”
Significantly, a study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), “Relationship of Traffic Fatality Rates to Maximum State Speed Limits,” confirms what I’ve been saying about how “speed kills”:
“The laws of physics dictate that the energy of a collision increases exponentially with the speed of the colliding objects. So it is generally agreed that the severity of a motor vehicle collision increases at higher speeds. … [I]t is reasonable to expect that higher speed limits and higher speeds on roads lead to more deaths and serious injuries.” (Page 2)
The speed limit research supporting the statement “speed kills”
Now, if only we can get lawmakers to get their heads out of the sand and get their eyes on the research which shows unequivocally that they’re killing people by stubbornly and ignorantly paving the way for drivers to go faster and faster:
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that a “5 mph increase in the maximum state speed limit was associated with an 8% increase in fatality rates on interstates and freeways” and “there were an estimated 33,000 more traffic fatalities during the years 1995-2013 than would have been expected if maximum speed limits had not increased.”
A study sponsored by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) found that raising the speed limit from 70 mph to 75 mph on freeways — which Michigan did in January 2017 — is estimated to increase motor vehicle accident-related fatalities by 17%.
Another MDOT-sponsored study found that raising the speed limit from 55 mph to 65 mph on non-freeways, i.e., highways — which Michigan did in January 2017 — is estimated to increase in car accident traffic fatalities by 28%.
The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) showed that fatalities increased 19.2% increase and serious injuries increased 39.8% when Michigan raised its speed limit on rural limited access highways from 55 mph to 65 mph in December 1987, noting quite astutely that “The increased convenience of reduced travel time with the higher speed limit is obtained at a significant cost in terms of injury morbidity and mortality.”
IIHS says fatalities jump 8% when speed limit increases 5 mph
As I noted in my blog, “Do faster speed limits drive up car accident fatalities? You bet. They have for years,” the IIHS’s “Relationship of Traffic Fatality Rates to Maximum State Speed Limits” study determined that:
“A 5 mph increase in the maximum state speed limit was associated with an 8% increase in fatality rates on interstates and freeways and a 4% increase on other roads.”
“In total, there were an estimated 33,000 more traffic fatalities during the years 1995-2013 than would have been expected if maximum speed limits had not increased. In 2013 alone, there were approximately 1,900 additional deaths — 500 on interstates/freeways and 1,400 on other roads.”
The IIHS also noted that the “increased fatality risk” from “raised” speed limits “has been so great that it has now largely offset the beneficial effects of some other traffic safety strategies,” such as frontal air-bags.
MDOT-sponsored studies show increased fatal car crash frequency at faster speed limit
In 2014 and 2015, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) sponsored two studies analyzing proposed (at the time) speed limit increases identical to the ones enacted by the Michigan Legislature in January 2017 and found that the faster speeds would lead to more people dying on Michigan roadways:
- Increasing the speed limit from 70 mph to 75 mph on “freeways” will result in an approximate 17.6% “increase in fatal crashes.” (“Evaluating the Impacts of Speed Limit Policy Alternatives,” MDOT Research Administration Project Number: OR 13-009, July 21, 2014, Pages 108)
- Increasing the speed limits on non-freeways from 55 mph to 65 mph would “result in fatal … crash rates increasing by 28.1 percent …” (“Evaluating Outcomes of Raising Speed Limits on High Speed Non-Freeways,” MDOT Research Administration Project Number: RC-1609B, April 2, 2015, Pages 86-87)
UMTRI reports 19% spike in deaths & 39% jump in injuries for previous MI speed limit increase
In its 1990 study, “Effects of the 65 MPH Speed Limit on Injury Morbidity and Mortality,” the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) showed that fatalities increased 19.2% increase and serious injuries increased 39.8% when Michigan raised its speed limit on rural limited access highways from 55 mph to 65 mph in December 1987.
Specifically, the UMTRI researchers found:
“Effective December 1987 and January 1988, the maximum speed limit on rural limited access highways in Michigan was raised from 55 mph to 65 mph. This study examined the effects of the raised limit on injury morbidity and mortality. … Results revealed significant increases in casualties on roads where the speed limit was raised, including a 19.2% increase in fatalities, a 39.8% increase in serious injuries, and a 25.4% increase in moderate injuries. Fatalities also increased on 55 mph limited access freeways, suggesting that the 65 mph limit may have spillover effects on segments of freeways where the limit was not changed. … The increased convenience of reduced travel time with the higher speed limit is obtained at a significant cost in terms of injury morbidity and mortality.”