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The Drive for Higher Speeds Takes on Speed

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Utah 75 MPH speed limit sign

Eightmile Point, Utah.

Illinois recently became the 37th state to allow drivers to speed at 70 miles per hour (MPH) or more, reports Brad Tuttle in the September 16 issue of TIME magazine. And he goes on to say that there are bills in the works to increase speed limits to 70 MPH in Wisconsin, 75 MPH in New Jersey, and 80 MPH in Michigan.

Declan O’Scanlon, the NJ assemblyman behind the bill to increase the speed limit on that state’s Garden State Parkway (GSP) and New Jersey Turnpike, gave the following reasons for his proposal, as Bob Holt writes for New Jersey Newsroom:

  • Most people drive at up to 75 MPH on the GSP already, despite posted 55 MPH speed limit signs in certain sections of the roadway, which were designed to handle 75 mph. (Most of the GSP’s speed limit signs are for 65 MPH.)
  • “You only have crashes and accidents when you have people overtaking other people.” Research shows that with a 75 MPH speed limit, drivers would increase their speeds and there would be fewer drivers changing lanes.
  • If everyone is driving at 75 MPH, there would be fewer traffic tickets.
  • “Speed limits should be set solely on sound engineering criteria, not the hunches of lay persons.”

As for Wisconsin, Evan Lockridge writes for that some people say they would only support a bill to push speed limits in that state to 70 MPH if it calls for keeping trucks at 65 MPH. He notes that Wisconsin is currently the only state in that region with the lower speed limit.

Studies show that car accidents are less likely to happen when cars travel at roughly the same speed, Tuttle writes in TIME. Critics of the higher speeds say they are dangerous, he points out, but he says that the data does not back that up: “Ohio Turnpike fatalities are down since the limit rose to 70 m.p.h. in 2011, while average speeds in Utah are up just 1 m.p.h. since the state welcomed its first 80-m.p.h. roads in 2008.”

In Colorado, cars and trucks are permitted to reach 75 MPH speeds on rural interstates, and 65 MPH on urban interstates and other limited access roads, according to the National Motorists Association (NMA). NMA’s chart shows that Texas and Utah allow drivers of cars and trucks to reach speeds of 80 MPH on “specified segments” of rural interstates.

The NMA posts the following questions and answers:

Q. Don’t higher speed limits cause more accidents and traffic fatalities?

A. No, if a speed limit is raised to actually reflect real travel speeds, the new higher limit will make the roads safer. When the majority of traffic is traveling at the same speed, traffic flow improves, and there are fewer accidents. Speed alone is rarely the cause of accidents. Differences in speed are the main problem. Reasonable speed limits help traffic to flow at a safer, more uniform pace.

Q. Aren’t most traffic accidents caused by speeding?

A. No, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that 30 percent of all fatal accidents are ‘speed related,’ but even this is misleading. This means that in less than a third of the cases, one of the drivers involved in the accident was ‘assumed’ to be exceeding the posted limit. It does not mean that speeding caused the accident. Research conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation showed that the percentage of accidents actually caused by speeding is very low, 2.2 percent.

Image by CountyLemonade (Garrett).


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