The Dangers of High Speed Limits Exposed – 33,000 Deaths Caused by Increased Speed Limits Over Last 20 Years

Here at Cappolino | Dodd | Krebs LLP, we see far too many cases of auto accidents caused by speeding, many of which involve tragic fatalities and severe injuries.

Speed Related Auto Accidents and Fatalities

Last year, Texas alone saw close to 300 fatalities in crashes as a result of speeding (1), with around 9,000 deaths nationwide from auto accidents that involve speeding vehicles.  These numbers likely understate the problem by hundreds or even thousands of cases, due to the method of calculating the causes of crashes in Texas.

Recent data regarding the effect of raised speed limits was confirmed by a published study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Charles Farmer, IIHS vice president for research and statistical services was the author of the report.

The study concluded that over 33,000 excess deaths have been caused by the increasing speed limits that have been put in place throughout the United States over the past 20 years. To put that in perspective, more people have been killed by the government raising speed limits than have been saved by airbags.

Why Maximum Speed Limit Increases Have Been on the Rise

These increased speed limits have been on the rise since 1995, after the repealing of a law that resulted in mandatory nationwide speed limits of 55mph back in the 1970s. Now laws regarding speed limits are decided on a state-level, meaning any state can set their own speed limit – here in Texas we have a maximum speed limit of 85mph on certain roads, which is the highest in the country.

Restrictions were originally imposed not for the safety of drivers, but rather for concerns over the lack of gasoline.  One obvious by-product of lower speed limits was a sharp decline in fatalities. But with deregulation of speed limits, two decades of progress went out the window.  In fact, were it not for safer vehicles today (made possible through many lawsuits against unsafe cars), we would likely have a great deal of public outrage about the deaths from the speed limit increases.  But the safer cars of today have masked the effect of the government speed limit increase, netting out the excess deaths roughly with those who have been saved by the many advances in crash-worthiness of cars.

The Findings of the Study

The study took data from 1995-2013 and looked for the effects of increased speed limited in 41 states – other states were left out of the study due to a lower number of miles travelled that didn’t provide accurate statistics.

Data was analyzed for deaths per billion miles travelled on roads by both state and the type of road. After accounting for factors that can affect fatalities, such as the number of young drivers or the consumption of alcohol per capita, it was found that for every 5 mph increase in the state’s maximum speed limit, there was a 4% increase in fatalities.  For interstates and freeways, the increase was even higher, coming in around 8%.

If you were to calculate the effect of sticking with 55 mph, there would be about 33,000 people alive today who are dead due to speed-related collisions.

It Might Be Even Worse Than We Think

Yes, it could actually be far worse. This is because there are many aspects that have not been taken into account for the study. For one, figures from the last three years (2013-2016) haven’t been used. For example, here in Texas, the speed limit has changed since 2013, going from 75mph to 85mph.

“Since 2013, speeds have only become more extreme, and the trend shows no sign of abating,” Farmer notes. “We hope state lawmakers will keep in mind the deadly consequences of higher speeds when they consider raising limits.”

The dangers of speeding have always been known, but this just confirms our worst fears – increased speed limits are making our roads even more dangerous.


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