33,000 Car Crash Fatalities in 20 Years Due to Raised Speed Limit

New research done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) show that during a period of more than twenty years (1873 – 1995), there have been 33,000 fatalities arising from increases in speed limit in the United States. Charles Farmer, IIHS vice president for research and statistical services, opines that car accident deaths would have been fewer in the same study period if states had not increased their speed limits.

Here’s a historical recap of the raise in speed limits in the US.

In 1073, when fuel was scarce, Congress passed a measure requiring states to set a 55 mph as speed limit in order for them to receive their share of highway funds. This was known as the National Maximum Speed Limit. Although concern over safety was not the main goal of the measure, car crash fatalities decreased considerably. In 1987, with fuel availability no longer a threat, Congress allowed the states to raise speed limits to 65 mph on rural interstate highways. In 1995, this law was totally scrapped.

As expected, the increase in fatalities followed the repeal of the law limiting speed limits. And it is still increasing up to the present. Texas has the highest speed limit at 85 mph and six other states have set their limits at 80 mph.

Taking other factors into consideration, including variables in unemployment, rising number of drivers ages 16 – 24 and alcohol intake, the IIHS research found that an increase of 5 mph in a state’s maximum limit resulted in a 4 percent rise in deaths from car crashes.

The 33,000 fatalities is also possibly a lower figure than the actual because only the increases in rural interstates were considered; yet speed limits for urban interstates have also been raised in several other states. Further, the speed limit raise in some states were not included in the study. Farmer says there is no reversal in the trend for increasing maximum speed limits and it is up to the state officials to consider the fatal consequences of increasing speed limits should they choose to do so.

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