Higher speed limits mean more road deaths, study finds

April 5, 2019

Rising speed limits in the U.S. are to blame a spike in highway fatalities, the IIHS said Thursday.

The IIHS published new findings that showed an estimated 37,000 more drivers died due to increases in speed limits compared to if the limits hadn't been raised at all. On average, around 10,000 people die per year in speeding-related crashes. The core of the problem resides in the fact most drivers continue to go faster than a posted speed limit, no matter what the limit is. Texas is home to the highest speed limits in the nation with some roads limited to 85 mph. In most cases, drivers will still go faster than the posted limit. The majority of the U.S. features speed limits in the 70 to 75 mph range.

Many east coast states are capped at 65 mph, while more rural western states have 80 mph speed limits.

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The study looked at a variety of factors to calculate the increase in deaths due to rising speed limits since 1993. The IIHS researched annual traffic deaths per mile for each state and included factors such as unemployment, number of potential young drivers (aged 16 to 24), and seat belt usage. The results showed a 5 mph increase in speed limits correlated with an 8 percent increase in traffic fatalities on highways and freeways. The IIHS found a 3 percent increase in deaths for other roads that saw a 5 mph increase.

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The IIHS estimates that if speed limits hadn't changed from a high of 65 mph in 1993, about 5 percent of those who died in speed-related crashes would still be alive, or nearly 2,000 people.

It's important to remember speeding is hardly a time saver, the IIHS pointed out. Over a 100-mile trip, driving at 70 mph compared to 65 mph saves just 6.5 minutes. The IIHS encouraged lawmakers to consider the realities when increasing speed limits. The institute will also hold a forum on the speed problem this month where safety advocates, researchers, and both local and federal officials will brainstorm programs to manage speeding.

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