Speeding – deaths increase with higher limits


Increasing the posted speed limit by 5 mph (8 km/h) can increase the fatality rate by 8%, according to a new IIHS study in the United States on speeding. 


While we have always advocated that speed is not the direct cause of crashes, but rather the inappropriate use of speed is what is really the issue, this study lends another perspective.


Speeding-related fatalities have increased with rising posted limits, according to a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In some instances, limits have gone to 80 mph plus. While the facts listed below are a true reflection of the situation, there are no doubt other factors that come into play.


In 2017, 37 133 people in the US died in traffic accidents. Yet, 1 934 of them would still be alive if speed limits had not changed since 1993. Over the past 25 years, the study attributes a total of close to 37 000 lost lives to rising speed limits across the nation.


For the new study, an IIHS researcher analysed the effect of changes in the maximum posted speed limit in every state from 1993 to 2017.


The findings show that a 5 mph increase in the maximum speed limit was associated with an 8% increase in the fatality rate on interstates and freeways. These are roads most directly affected by changes to the maximum speed limit — and a 3% increase on other roads.


In total, over the 25-year study period, there were 36,760 more deaths — there were 13,638 on interstates and freeways compared to 23,122 on other roads — than would have been expected if maximum speed limits hadn’t changed over that time.


Speed limits are set by American states and have been creeping up since the mid-1990s. Presently 41 states have maximum speed limits of 70 mph or higher. Six states have 80 mph and Texas makes it legal to drive on select roads at up to 85 mph.


Speeding remains one the nation’s top roadway problems and is responsible for approximately 10 000 fatalities a year.


Stakeholders such as government agencies, non-profits, safety advocates and automakers are taking steps to remedy the speeding crisis.


As mentioned earlier, there are other factors that come into play. Not the least of which is that drivers are more distracted and therefore when speed limits are changed drivers are lacking in the skills needed in order to deal with the changed parameters. One such factor is reaction time.


With incremental speed, the reaction needed to deal with a hazard is amplified. Therefore any factor that impacts on this is important – not being on the phone or being better rested could have enabled a better reaction (appropriate and speed of such) could have changed the outcome.


Therefore, with that in mind we could reason that if the drivers were better trained – to handle the increased speed – the results could have been somewhat different. While this factor is not the only one there are no doubt other factors, such as weather, that could impact on the results.


Notwithstanding any comments to the contrary, or in support, this survey does indicate the need for ongoing research and the need to be open to any way that could reduce (and hopefully) eliminate unnecessary fatalities.


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