As an exuberant driver, I welcome the increase of speed limits around the country. But as a lawyer who represents people who have been injured in car wrecks, I find such increases troubling.
There is a recent proposal to slightly increase the speed limits on a number of highways in the Dallas – Fort Worth area. Everyone here seems to drive over the limit anyway, so we’ll see what effect this increase has if it passes the Texas Department of Transportation.
I believe cars are safer than they were just a few years ago, partly because of lawsuits brought by consumer lawyers against the auto manufacturers. So theoretically, today’s cars should be able to be driven safely at higher speeds. However, there’s no reason to think that human reflexes (or human judgement) has improved recently. In fact, as the Baby Boomers age, just the opposite may be happening.
So, is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know. Here are excerpts from an article in USA Today on the subject:
Gentlemen, ladies and kids with driver’s licenses: Start your engines. Five state legislatures voted this year to raise speed limits on some divided highways in their states.
They’re following the lead of Texas, which last year bumped the speed limit on one stretch to 85 mph, the highest in the nation.
Ohio and Utah are going full speed ahead with implementing their higher limits. Maine and Illinois officials are studying when — and whether — to raise their newly approved speeds, while New Hampshire’s new law takes effect in January.
Some 36 states have speed limits of 70 mph or above on some roads, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Texas set its 85 mph limit on a 40-mile stretch of divided toll highway between Austin and San Antonio (toll: $6.17, one-way).
Speed limits traditionally were regulated by individual states until the mid-1970s when Congress, to conserve energy, designated a national speed limit of 55 mph and threatened to withhold highway funds from any state that exceeded it. But those rules were loosened in 1987 and repealed in 1995.
Since then, states have steadily increased the speed limits on some stretches of roads. Generally, the higher speed limits are set on rural interstate highways or other limited-access roads, though not always.
Utah’s new law expands segments of a road already posted at 80 mph, effective last March. Ohio’s law, signed by Gov. John Kasich, increased the maximum speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph on rural interstates, effective July 13.
More car crashes?
Not everyone is happy with the trend toward higher speeds. Critics point to the dangers.
“When speed limits go up deaths go up, and when speed limits go down deaths go down,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety . “It seems as though more states are raising speed limits despite the clear evidence that shows what the safety downside is. Higher speeds mean more crashes and more severe ones.”
Speed was a contributing factor in about 30 percent of fatal traffic accidents in 2011 (the last year for which statistics are available), according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That statistic has stayed about the same for a decade, even as speed limits have increased and safety equipment has improved.