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Speed kills – Why increasing Michigan’s speed limit law is a bad idea

August 22, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan Senator Rick Jones is proposing bill to allow drivers to drive up to 80mph

Increasing speed limits

I have a case that highlights just how dangerous the idea to increase the speed limit in Michigan will be. It involves a trucking company (with no safety director and no truck driver training and driver supervision programs) and a trucker who pulled out onto a  major freeway from an illegal road. As the truck slowly pulled across the freeway, blocking all lanes of travel, another car going over the speed limit plowed into it.

The young man I represent was a backseat occupant of the car, and was a college student in Ohio at the time. The car driver was tragically killed in the crash. She plowed into the side of the truck as the truck slowly pulled out in front of her onto the freeway.  The driver never had a chance.

The young man I represent was studying to be a doctor and grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.  He will never again have a normal life like he had before this terrible tragedy.

Now there is a law in the works that would increase Michigan speed limits. State Sen. Rick Jones (R, Grand Ledge ) is working on legislation that would allow drivers to go faster, potentially up to 80 miles per hour on parts of the interstate.

We know with absolute certainty that speed kills.  The largest studies to date, performed by O’Day and Flora (1982) and Joksch (1993) and presented by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found an exponential increase in risk of a car driver being killed in a crash as the automobile increases in speed.

This is based upon simple physics. The relationship of speed to crash severity is unequivocal, according to yet another large study by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.  Velocity change in a car crash is a critical measure of crash severity.

So, if Michigan increases its speed limit laws, that means we can say with absolute scientific certainty that more people will die and more people will be catastrophically injured in higher speed car accidents.

People may arrive a few minutes earlier to a destination.  Increasing a speed limit by 5 mph or 10 mph only really saves people a minute or two for most routine trips in cars.

But saving a few minutes in travel time carries a real risk as well.  We have to measure whether that benefit of saving people a few extra minutes in travel time will be worth the cost in human lives and the injuries that will certainly be more severe –  due to the car accidents that will inevitably occur at faster speeds.

Related information:

What are the Michigan speed limit laws?

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5 Replies to “Speed kills – Why increasing Michigan’s speed limit law is a bad idea”

  1. I think the lawyer above is wrong, whatever happened to personal responsibility and learning to drive the roads? Obviously if there’s a slow moving vehicle in front of you you shouldn’t slam into it. 50 miles an hour or 80 miles an hour the outcome of the above story would have been the same. It actually would have been probably been the same at 30 miles an hour. The story is fraught with what ifs. when the lawyer talks about training you can certainly see that the story is packed with distractions from the facts. As far is the speed limit, It has been shown that driving at higher speeds does not increase accidents or fatalities, I think this is a great idea and its time that we move on in Michigan and raise the speed limit.

  2. Speed isn’t the killing factor ! Yes, it increases damages but even in the case you cite , the root cause was pulling onto the interstate from an unauthorized junction. Many things cause crashes but seldom does speed actually cause it , inattention , not looking far enough down the road , poor road conditions….. especially in Michigan. A more important thing speed related in MI that should be addressed is the speed gap between trucks and cars , only a handful of states have split speed limits these days and as recently IL has found out they have experienced LESS car/truck collisions since eliminating their split speed limit.

    1. Mike, it’s interesting that you bring up split speed limits for cars and trucks. I often write about how truck drivers have so much more responsibility when behind the wheel of 80,000 pound commercial vehicles. Truck drivers abiding by more careful speed limits is part of that. And I agree with you that inattention, poor road conditions and drivers not being aware of their surroundings are common causes of car accidents. But to omit speed as a contributing factor is incorrect. I’ve handled many tragic and deadly car, truck and motorcycle accidents that would not have occurred if the drivers involved were not traveling at high speeds. At high speeds, vehicles are more likely to lose control, hit other drivers and pedestrians, and rear-end vehicles that are traveling at the legal speeds. Again, studies by the Insurance Institute of Michigan (referenced above) point to an exponential increase in risk of a car driver being killed in a crash as the automobile increases in speed. You cannot ignore the cause and effect.

  3. If we want the safest roads, the limits should be posted at the 85th percentile speeds of free flowing traffic under good conditions. Go to our website at motorists (dot) org and use the Speed Limits link, then the Articles link. Read the last article by the Michigan State Police titled Establishing Safe and Realistic Speed Limits. It is the clearest of several states’ explanations of the 70+ year old science of setting the safest speed limits – usually at the 85th percentile speeds.

    1. James, I see you’ve posted this in many different places. I also see you work as a consultant and respectfully wonder if you have a financial interest in doing so? Nevertheless, while I understand that it is important for drivers to keep up with the flow of traffic, it is still scientifically proven that car accident death and injury rates increase as speeds increases. And these studies you mention do not take into account the epidemic of distracted driving, including texting while driving, that we see on the roads every single day. A distracted driver who is texting and driving 80mph has a lot less time to look up, perceive and react – or to be more clear – not kill someone because he isn’t paying attention, than a texter who is driving 70mph or 60mph. Cell phones may be involved in as many as one in four car accidents, according to the latest studies. So, my position is allowing one in four distracted drivers to now go faster is NOT in the public interest. I base this many of my own tragic car accident cases that I am now litigating caused by distracted driving and speeding, and from studies from the Insurance Institute of Michigan (referenced above) that point to an increase in injuries and deaths as speed also increases.

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