The Question of Speed Limits

Serving the injured and grieving in the Panhandle region as a Panama City car accident law firm provides our team with an up-front view of serious automobile accidents and the choices that lead to tragic collisions. As we have discussed in previous blog entries, excessive speed remains one of the leading causes of fatal and injury-causing car accidents. Given the known link between speeding and accidents, it makes sense to ask a related question: does increasing the speed limit also increase the risk of a dangerous crash?

Florida Legislature Considers Speed Limit Hike

2 Florida state legislators are proposing increasing the speed limit on certain roads from 70 to 75 miles per hour. Discussing the proposal, WJHG notes that the bump to a statewide maximum speed limit of 70 mph only occurred in 1995. Additionally, law enforcement wrote close to 900,000 speeding tickets in 2012. While some proponents of the increase cite improved automobile technology, others voice concern that drivers are currently pushing 80 mph and might increase travelling speeds to 85 miles per hour or greater.

Currently, at least 15 states have speed limits that top Florida's max, with Texas allowing motorists to travel at 85 mph on certain roadways. Captain Nancy Rasmussen with the Department of Highway Safety says the office plans to reach out to the states that have speed limits in excess of 70mph and ask about their experience. State Senator Jeff Clemons, one of the sponsors of the legislation calling for the increase, notes that the higher limit would only apply on certain toll roads and rural interstates. He suggests that motorists should be allowed to drive at whatever speed is safe.

Does a Higher Speed Limit Lead to More Accidents?

There have been many studies examining the relation between speed limits and fatal accidents (note: many focus on fatalities rather than injury crashes because only fatal accidents are tracked by the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System). Early this year, Connecticut's Office of Legislative Research published a report gathering a number of these studies to determine whether an increased speed limit leads to an increase in the number or rate of automobile accidents. The study notes that federal law allowed states to move from a 55 mph maximum to 65 mph in 1987 and repealed the national speed limit in 1995, permitting states to choose their own maximum (or even elect to have no speed limit). Since the changes, most states have increased speed limits on at least some of their roadways.

Connecticut's report notes that studies came to varying conclusions as to the result of increasing speed limits following the two federal changes. The report makes special mention of a 2006 National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) study, which in turn noted the discrepancies in prior research. In the NCHRP study, researchers concluded a move from a 55 mph to a 65 mph speed limit on a typical roadway led to 3% more accidents and a 24% increase in the likelihood of an occupant death for an overall 28% increase in the number of fatalities.

The study found a similar but significantly lesser impact from a speed limit increase from 65mph to 75mph (0.64% increase in total crashes, 12% increase in probability of a death, overall 13% more fatalities). While the analysis did not reveal the reason for the reduced impact of the increase at the higher speed rate, the study suggested that people may drive more cautiously at the faster speeds or that roads considered appropriate for the 75mph speed limit are safer overall.

Another report that received special mention came from the American Journal of Public Health and found a 3.2% increase in deaths attributable to speed limit increases nationwide. That study attributed 36,583 injuries and 12,545 deaths to speed limits nationwide in a 10-year span.

Focusing on Safety

We urge the state to exercise caution as it considers a potential speed limit increase. This caution should apply to the decision overall and to the evaluation of whether an increase is appropriate for a specific stretch of roadway. This is a decision that must be driven by safety concerns and not a "popularity contest."

Responsible driving involves not only obeying the speed limit, but also adjusting travelling speed to road conditions, such as reducing one's speed during heavy rain, near road construction, or when an unusually high number of pedestrians are present. If another driver's decision to travel too fast given the totality of the circumstances has left you injured or resulted in the death of a loved one, we may be able to help. Take the first step towards recovering monetary compensation and call to schedule a free consultation with our experienced car accident attorney.

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