Study: Higher Speed Limits Caused 33,000 Deaths

Researchers say 33,000 lives have been lost in 20 years due to an increase in state speed limits.

Study: Higher Speed Limits Caused 33,000 Deaths

Posted in News

— A new study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says by increasing legal speed limits over the past 20 years, 33,000 lives have been lost on American roadways.

State speed limits have risen since 1995, 27 years after Congress required states to adopt a 55 mph speed limit in exchange for receiving highway funding. The move wasn't as much based on safety as the concerns over enough gas being available for vehicles. The uniform 55 mph speed limit not only helped with fuel consumption, but the number of accident fatalities dropped.

That started to change in 1987 when Congress, no longer as concerned about energy issues, gave states more room to play around with speed limits. By 1995, the national speed limit law was repealed and states didn't have to worry about losing highway funds because of higher speed limits.

On one side of the argument are those who say drivers exceed the speed limit no matter what it is, so the limit shouldn't be set so low. The other side says raising the speed limit only means more people will exceed the higher limit, therefore making the roads more hazardous.

IIHS studied speed limit increases made from 1993-2013 in a total of 41 states and looked at deaths per billion miles traveled by state and roadway type. Researchers determined each 5 mph increase in the maximum speed limit resulted in a 4 percent increase in fatalities, but on interstates and freeways the increase was 8 percent.

The Institute says it believes after taking all factors into consideration, the 33,000 fatalities are underestimated because some factors couldn't be accurately included.

The study covered until 2013, a year which saw 1,900 additional deaths, essentially canceling out the number of lives saved by frontal airbags that year.

During 2013, only Texas and Utah had speed limits above 75 mph. Since then, five states have been added to that list while other states have increased the limit from 65 mph to 70 mph. In addition, researchers say six states now have 80 mph speed limits, and on some Texas roads that limit increases to 85 mph.