Higher speed limits are gaining steam

Forget 55. Most states have raised their maximum to 70 mph or more. But those increases also mean more accidents.

By Bruce Kennedy May 29, 2013 10:19AM

Car on road (© Brand X/SuperStock)It was like Prohibition for the lead foots among us, a "noble experiment" that didn't get very far. In 1974, President Richard Nixon put his signature on the National Maximum Speed Law, which reduced the top speed on all U.S. interstates to 55 mph. The law was in response to the 1973 oil embargo, and it was meant rein in fuel consumption.

The NMSL was unpopular right from the start, and after decades of being ignored in many states it was formally repealed in 1995. That's when the regulation of speed limits was handed back to state and local authorities. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 35 states now have speed limits of 70 mph or higher on some portion of their roadway systems -- and that number is expected to rise as state legislatures look at proposals to bring up their local speed limits.

But the need for speed, which supporters say will improve interstate commerce, is also being weighed against concerns about a potential new rise in highway fatality rates.

Earlier this month, the Illinois House of Representatives sent Gov. Pat Quinn a measure to raise the speed limit on the state's non-urban interstate highways from 65 to 70 mph. The bill's champions say Illinois has to remain competitive with neighboring states.

"People steer clear of our roads because it takes them longer to get through" the state, Republican Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer told the Chicago Tribune. That means "we're not getting the gas revenue, we're not getting people stopping for food, we're not getting a number of other benefits."

Ohio's Department of Transportation, meanwhile, has unveiled new stretches of rural interstate where starting July 1 the speed limit will be increased to 70 mph in an effort to help move freight along more quickly.

Critics, however, say with higher highway speeds come higher accident rates. A study published several years ago in the American Journal of Public Health found the number of injuries and fatalities on rural interstates between 1995 (when the NMSL was repealed) and 2005 increased by 9.1% and by 4% on urban interstates.

There's also a tangible price to pay if Illinois hikes its speed limit: The state's department of transportation says about 900 highway signs that now show a 65-mph maximum will have to be replaced -- at an estimated cost of $200,000.

More on moneyNOW

May 29, 2013 12:36PM

Raising the speed limit is fine as long as states make the same strict passing laws as in Germany.  That is, cars ONLY pass on the left and slower vehicles MUST stay to the right.

May 29, 2013 12:59PM
The only reason the accident rate increased was because of IDIOTS paying more attention to their texting and cell-phone conversations that to their driving
May 29, 2013 12:39PM

The reason why people avoid Illinois is because it is a ****.  Useless toll roads, terrible drivers, and way too much traffic.  There is nothing that Illinois has that anyone needs.

May 29, 2013 12:43PM
I drive a stretch of road posted at 55. its rough to do 45 on it.
I drive a stretch of four lane road posted at 65. I'm usually behind a pair racing side by side at 45 to 50 on it. Oh well, until they enforce the laws against that, they can make the speed limit whatever. people are still gonna putz along in the left lane at 50 mph while traffic stacks up behind them.

May 29, 2013 11:23AM
Raise teh limit to 80. If you want to drive slow stay on the old 2 lane highways.
May 29, 2013 12:40PM

Oil & gas lobbies are pushing hard for this, because it will burn more gas.  Texas limits are going up all over the state... including the rural 2-lane roads.  I wouldn't worry so much if we could outlaw texting and talking on cellphones while driving.


If we would treat driving as a huge responsibility and privilege instead of a "constitutional" right and give our student drivers adequate training and education, we would all be safer.  Everyone knows about the German Autobahn, but what they don't know is that a a German driver’s license costs about $1500-2000, after a minimum of 25-45 hours of professional instruction plus 12 hours of theory.


One other comment was very true... it's very dangerous to stick to your usual slower speed of 60-65 when everyone else going 70-80, etc!

May 29, 2013 12:11PM

"People steer clear of our roads because it takes them longer to get through" the state, Republican Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer told the . That means "we're not getting the gas revenue, we're not getting people stopping for food, we're not getting a number of other benefits."


Other benefits being all of the tolls you have cough up when driving through the flatland? 

May 29, 2013 12:21PM
The stats on the increase of accidents might be because there were more drivers on the road than 1995 and before. That is really when the banks starting lending to anyone, and it was so easy to get a vehicle.
May 29, 2013 12:48PM
Utah has a "test" area at 80 mph and accidents have dropped in that stretch.  I think they are looking at adding other sections for 80 mph.
May 29, 2013 12:09PM
I remember the oil embargo and Nixon saying we could save some oil driving slower. He was really tricky, cause we haven't done either and my car gets better mileage from a gallon of gas from the V6 I now have than the V6 I had then. My car is safer at any speed than back in the day.
May 29, 2013 11:59AM

The biggest problem with crotch rockets....You don't see them coming until they are there..


120mph in 100mph traffic is fine.....But 120 in 65mph traffic...Not a good mix.


And different cars are good at higher speeds, providing you can drive and reflexes, thinking are still at the higher speeds also...?

May 29, 2013 12:11PM
And there is is in the article "...we are not getting the gas revenue..."
States, who receive a significant amount of tax revenue, stand to gain the most from this.
Driving faster consumes more fuel.  Consuming more fuel equals more stops. More stops in one state equals greater tax revenue for the state.
May 29, 2013 1:34PM
Okay there is a big push to lower the alcohol level to .05 to save lives but let's increase the speed limit which actually will cause more fatal accidents than lowering the alcohol rate. Plus driving a motorcycle without a helmet is okay but I have to wear a seat belt while in a car. Talking and texting is still legal in many states, but we don't worry about that, who are the idiots that make these decisions.
May 29, 2013 3:05PM
In Texas, the speed limit has been 70 mph for a long time. Most highways now have a speed limit of 75mph and some of the highways in West Texas are now 80mph. There is at least one toll road that is about 40 miles long and goes to San Antonio that has the speed limit of 85 mph.
May 29, 2013 1:29PM

On our 2,650 mile road trip thru Ca., Az., Wy., Id., Ut. just finished Friday May 24 2013, we found posted Highway speed limits of 65, 70, 75, and in Utah 80 on the best and fastest stretches (slower of course on curves, mountain sections, etc.).  Outside of Ca. (where 18-wheelers and vehicles with trailers are limited to 55 even in 70+ speed limit sections) the posted speed limits we saw in Az., Wy., Id., and Ut. applied to all vehicles including 18-wheelers and vehicles with trailers.  How odd and unusual it was for us to  be cruising at 75 in an 80 posted limit section to have an 18-wheeler pull into the left lane and pass us.  We are not used to that!


Oh, would like to mention that outside of Ca. drivers were courteous, generally stayed in the right lane unless passing and generally would move over to let faster vehicles pass (the ones that didn't mostly had Ca. plates).  Being from Ca. it is kind of embarrassing.

May 29, 2013 12:41PM

With rising speed limits come rising insurance costs.


In the mid 1990s Montana did away with speed limits on highways, instead instituting a basic speed law which stated that the "speed limit" was whatever was "reasonable for the existing conditions."  This was popular with drivers, and there was no rise in accident rates, but the basic speed law had to be repealed less than 2 years later because as soon as it was passed auto insurance companies hiked rates for all Montana drivers by as much as 100%, pricing insurance out of the market for many drivers.  The rise in uninsured drivers was too much for the state government to deal with, so the basic speed law was repealed.

May 29, 2013 12:39PM
The speed limits are fine the way they are. People are gonna speed regardless of the speed limit. On highway 23 in Wisconsin between Plymouth and Fond du Lac for an example, the speed limit says 55 but the average speed is 65-70 and very rarely do you see cops. So big deal. They might as well change it to "recommended speed" or something like that instead of "speed limit."
May 29, 2013 10:54AM
I hope people can text at higher speeds.
May 29, 2013 11:52AM

I've had Semis pass me at 75...(they need to have severe limits in bad weather conditions).imo.

But most places, I drive 5-15 over.......Always have.


Distractions such as texting, talking and yes drinking; Are the bigger problems, mostly the first 2.

Even GPS....Some get confused and then cause confusion.

Another is old people that don't know how to drive anymore, or maybe never could...?

There should be stringent test for drivers, starting somewhere between 65-75....?

Like I say many never learned how to drive well, Period.

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