5/23/2011 11:49 AM ET|
Why speed limits are rising
Sure, you'd save fuel if you drove more slowly. And safety experts point out that fatalities increase with speed. What in the world are states thinking?
Watch out for the old guy in the hat doing 50 mph in the left lane, because he's the threat, not you.
At least that's the sentiment that appears to be gaining ground as states begin raising -- that's right, raising -- speed limits on some highways.
The thinking goes like this: If most drivers are doing 80 mph anyway, why discourage the others from joining the flow of traffic, particularly given the number of flagrantly bad lane-changers out there?
Predictably, motorists are cheering and the auto insurance industry and safety experts are warning of increased hazards.
Go ahead, step on it
Kansas recently raised the speed limit on more than 1,000 miles of divided four-lane highways to 75 mph; the new limit takes effect July 1. Louisiana reset portions of a rural interstate to 75 mph in April, after observing that 85 percent of drivers were going at or below that speed. The same month, Ohio upped the speed on its turnpike to 70 mph.
Late last year, Virginia raised the speed limit on its rural interstates to 70 mph. And the Texas House of Representatives recently passed legislation to boost limits to 85 mph on highways in west Texas.
If the Texas Senate goes along, these will be the first U.S. highways to break the 80 mph barrier (Texas and Utah have each tried 80 mph limits) since President Richard Nixon enacted a national speed limit of 55 mph in response to the 1973 oil crisis. The national limit was raised to 65 mph in 1987, and authority to set highway speeds reverted back to the states in 1995. Speeds have been rising slowly and sporadically ever since.
But it's hardly open season on the open road. Speed limits are rising where the highways are emptiest, and the consequences of a traffic ticket on your car insurance premiums aren't going to shrink.
Go with the flow
It's about time for higher limits, say proponents. For years, state transportation departments have set speed limits based, in part, on how fast traffic already moves. Rural multilane highways where motorists typically exceed the posted limits should do the same, say proponents of higher limits, as long as traffic engineering studies deem each increase to be safe.
"What you want is free-flowing traffic, where's there's no encumbrances to the traffic," says Gary Biller, the executive director of the National Motorists Association. "So you're seeing traffic in its natural state."
Studies by the Michigan State Police have found that the safest speed limits are those that capture the most drivers. Less passing (and presumably less finger-waving) equals fewer incidents. The terms of this theory are these:
- Prevailing speed: The speed at which most drivers feel comfortable traveling on a set stretch of road, regardless of the speed limit. In experiments by the Michigan researchers, prevailing speed did not appreciably change even when the posted speed limit did. In one case where the limit was raised from 55 mph to 70 mph, the prevailing speed actually dropped from 73 mph to 72 mph.
- The 85th percentile: The speed that captures 85 percent of drivers, meaning that the bulk of drivers are going at or below this speed, regardless of the posted limit. The Michigan State Police has pegged this as the optimum target in order to reduce speed variance.
- Lowest speed variance: The sweet spot where the difference between the fastest and slowest drivers is smallest. Studies show that the number of crashes drops as speed levels even out.
Not so fast
Citing contradictory speed studies, not all state lawmakers are ready to raise speed limits, however.
"The body of evidence clearly points to the connection between higher speed and deaths," says Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "I've heard the opponents say, 'We've had higher speeds, and yet we've had the lowest death rates in the last few years.' But in recent years that's entirely due to more crashworthy cars.
"You have to go to the areas where the speed limits have changed," Rader says. "When you look at the specific rural interstates where the speed limits have been raised, there are more deaths on those roads."
A 2009 study in the American Journal of Public Health looked at specific roadways, attributing 12,545 deaths between 1995 and 2005 to increased speed limits.
Here are the consequences of faster driving that safety experts want you to keep in mind:
- Longer stopping distances. Exact calculations of braking time and distance vary depending on a multitude of factors, but it's hard to deny basic physics: The faster you go, the longer it takes to stop.
- Less time to respond. If it takes one second to recognize an emergency, and another second to take action, in those two seconds a car going 85 mph will have traveled 249 feet before the driver reacts, or about 16 car lengths. At 65 mph the distance drops to 190 feet, or about 12 car lengths.
- Speed kills. Accidents at high rates of speed aren't just worse; they're much worse, and they're more likely to be fatal.
To see speed limits by state, go here.
This article was reported by Karen Aho for CarInsurance.com.
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As a truck driver that spends more time on the nation's highways in a week than some spend in a half a year, one thing is abuduntantly clear to me after reading many of the comments on this blog. Unneccesary fatality accidents will continue to occur, no matter what the speed limits are set at. The comments on this board reflect the nonsense that I witness on the roads everyday... and the sentiment that seems to come through on almost everyone of them is this, "if you don't drive like me, you must be doing something wrong". I rarely, if ever, see motorists being courteous to ANYONE on the road, or putting safety above anything else in their decision making. They truly think that the one car length they're trying to acquire means something, and they'll stop at nothing to get it. That fact means that healthy egos will continue to let me see dead people on the side of the road every week. Whether they were driving 55 or 75 before they cut the other person off won't even be an afterthought.
I motion that we stop calling these events "auto accidents" and call them what they are... the inevitable outcome of egotistical, inexperienced drivers making horrible decisions. Believe it or not, almost EVERY "accident" is avoidable, so let's stop calling 'em accidents and call it what it is.
What all of these studies don't take into account is the fact that PEOPLE DON'T KNOW HOW TO DRIVE! Its as simple as that. When I took driver training in 1986 (yeah, I'm telling my age) one of the first things we were taught was car control. Then we were taught how to properly make turns, especially the most heinous left turn at a signal. That's why states started putting in left turn lights: to tell the morons who weren't required to take driver training because they got their license after age 18, but still don't know jack about driving, when to make the damn turn! In Michigan, where I'm from, people were literally getting knocked onto the sidewalk because they didn't know that when making a left turn you're supposed to pull the car out into the intersection so that all oncoming traffic knows what you are attempting to do. These people would sit at the crosswalk line until the light turned red and then dart out into traffic just to get broadsided by someone who wasn't stopped at the light but was travelling along the street and simply proceeded through the intersection because the signal changed before they got there.
You see, we in America are all about treating the symptoms instead of addressing the problem, which I stated earlier. That's why automotobile manufacturers have been racing to develop more and more safety devices to put in their cars and trucks. Driving today is no more dangerous than it was 30 years ago; what makes it dangerous is the amount of people who wholeheartedly believe that being able to put a car in 'Drive' and steer it around from place to place is good enough to pass a driving test - but it ain't driving! They have no respect for the fact that they are essentially piloting a 2, 3, 4 or even 5 thousand pound projectile and have no clue as to the ramifications of their actions caused by driver error, and will continue to be clueless until they get someone killed. That's why women and other non-drivers tend to gravitate toward SUV's. They're big, heavy, and can better protect them in a collision due to their own ham-fisted incompetence behind the wheel.
If driver training and testing were more like what is established in Germany I'd bet my paycheck driver fatalities would sharply decrease.
I've found there's a luxury to not being in a hurry. It actually makes life more enjoyable. I don't mind you speeding in the fast lane, as long as you are in control and not tailgating. So please allow me to enjoy life in the slow lane. I'll just smile and wave as you fly by.
@ someone (haycreek)
That's a prime example of a driver who just doesn't care about anyone else on the road. Sure, drive as slow as you like in the fast lane, not caring if people have to pass you on the right.
I don't care if you want to drive 10MPH all the way to your destination, I really don't. Just do it in the right lane so that fewer accidents are caused by traffic.
The stats are fairly reliable but can be skewed.. as every graph. Age is a factor in some cases, but not all. 18 wheelers driven by experienced drivers with heavy time behind the wheel, are involved in considerably less accidents per mile driven, per driver than a high performance car driven by a less experienced younger person.
Over sized vehicles (RV's) driven by older drivers, are far less often involved in accidents than The impetuous driver of any age, passing in dangerous zones. The time of day or night, road conditions. Quality of pavement, straight and wide vs twisty and narrow. . Many more drivers fell asleep at the wheel during the 55 days. Blame always transferred to whatever/whoever, was listed as 'Lost Control'.
Average speed increases on Interstates within city limits no matter what posted limit, even though the conditions are far more dangerous. The really big and deadly traffic pile-ups are on the cities Interstate arterials, due to tailgating and impetuous drivers, rare on the open highways.
DUI and drug impairment is a major cause of fatalities. Speed is not the only factor, choices and judgment are.
being able to drive faster is convenient, but it also wastes more fuel.
"Wastes" presumes that drivers have nothing useful to do with the time saved. Some of us disagree.
The posted speed doesn't matter nearly as much as the variance in speeds. Most of the problems on the highways and interstates could be avoided if the morons cruising at or below the speed limit in the left lane would simply stay in the right lane unless actively engaged in passing. If you choose to go at or below the speed limit in the left lane of a highway/interstate and don't move over you absolutely deserve to be tailgaited and have the driver you are impeding put their brights on you. You are the problem.
Speed isn't the main factor for road deaths. Distracted drivers are. Cell phones, radios, CD, IPODs, drugs etc probably cause more accidents than speed.
600 mile trip at 60mph = 10 hour trip
same trip at 70mph = saving almost an hour - sorry I do not believe that I have saved gas by going being on the road an extra hour. I have also decreased by window for an accident by an hour. PROVIDED the road and conditions are such that even driving itself is not a hazard.
I have been in 4 accidents in my life and I am older than dirt - I was charged in only one of them. I got a ticket because in the state of Texas, you rear end someone it is your fault, period. However, my ticket was dropped and he went to jail for over 7 different things. Speed had nothing to do with it, it was drugs and failure to maintain THEIR equipment.
I think distracted drivers are far more fatal then speedy drivers. Increasing speed limits or eliminating them entirely on long straight highways would help alleviate distracted driver syndrome. The other problem is poorly maintained vehicles having failures.
Here in California with our much larger freeway structure, I think the law should change to laws similar to the autobahn. No speed limit. Vehicle requires periodic maintenence to assure safe conditions in order to get onto freeways. Speed limit of 50 MPH in construction zones. Fuel tax strictly spent on transportation system.
Speed doesn't kill. Bad driving kills. People who change lanes while a car is coming up behind them (in the lane they're going TO), talking on the phone with one hand while eating a slice of pizza with the other, are the real culprits. Another is truck drivers who travel in the left lane and cut people off all the time. Speed doesn't kill, stupidity does.
For years the IIHS has been in bed with the makers of radar guns, providing them at low or no cost to the police. More tickets=higher insurance=more money for them. No wonder they want to keep the speed limit low! But did you know just how innacurate those radars can be? They're affected by other electronic equipment in the patrol car. They once clocked a tree in Florida doing 120mph. If speed kills, why are trains getting faster? Surely a slower train would produce less of a wreck if it collided with another train or object in the road.
The main reason for accident is not speed, but drivers not paying attention or being just plain stupid. Look at European countries that have higher (unlimited in some places) speed limits and their accident count compared to the US. They are lower and you know why? It's because it's a hell of a lot harder to get you driver's license there. Some have tiered licenses and it takes multiple years to get a full license. They also have much more in depth training than a 30 question test and a 15 minute in car test. They consider driving a privilege and take it seriously, which it should be. Sure, they still have accidents, but less that we do. I would much rather go 75 with people only using the left lane to pass and keeping a safe distance. That is the exact opposite of what happens today.
Look at German cars and how long they refused to put in cup holders because it took away from driving.
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