Increasing maximum speed limits over the past 25 years has cost nearly 37,000 lives, including more than 1,900 in 2017 alone, according to a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
The research, an update of a 2016 analysis, calls attention to the trade-off between a few minutes of saved travel time and the increased risk of fatalities.
“About 10,000 people a year die in speed-related crashes,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “We can reduce this toll through effective, high-visibility enforcement and traffic engineering measures. Reasonable speed limits also have a crucial role to play, as our new study demonstrates.”
Maximum speed limits are set at state level, and they have been increasing since the mid-1990s. Today, 41 states have maximum speed limits of 70 mph or higher while six states have 80 mph limits. Drivers in Texas can legally drive 85 mph on some roads.
“Speeding has become almost a forgotten issue in traffic safety discussions, and clearly we’re losing any sense of limits,” said Darrin Grondel, Chair of Governors Highway Safety Association’s Executive Board and Director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. “This gathering is an exceptional opportunity to craft the building blocks of a comprehensive speed management program that we can translate into action to really make a difference in our work of saving lives.”
For the new study, Charles Farmer, IIHS Vice President for Research and Statistical Services, analyzed the effect of changes in the maximum posted speed limit in every state from 1993 to 2017. He found that a 5 mph increase in the maximum speed limit was associated with an 8% increase in the fatality rate on interstates and freeways — the roads most directly affected by changes to the maximum speed limit — and a 3 percent increase on other roads. In total, over the 25-year study period, there were 36,760 more deaths — 13,638 on interstates and freeways — and 23,122 on other roads — than would have been expected if maximum speed limits hadn’t changed over that time.