Experience you can trust – a local practice reaching back five generations
Photo of William H. Wilhoit

IIHS Calculates the Human Cost of Higher Speed Limits

Lawmakers in Kentucky have generally chosen to restrict vehicle speeds to 65 mph even on rural roads, but speed limits may be increased to 70 mph on stretches of highway that meet certain criteria. However, six states have introduced speed limits as high as 80 mph, and drivers in some parts of Texas can travel at 85 mph without breaking the law. Road safety advocates have long claimed that higher speed limits make deadly accidents more likely, and a 2016 study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety seems to back up these arguments.

According to the IIHS, the number of road users killed in traffic accidents grows by 4 percent for each 5 mph that maximum permissible speeds are increased. The nonprofit organization came to its conclusion after studying accident data gathered both before and after maximum speed limits were raised. The group puts the death toll of higher permissible speeds at about 1,900 fatalities each year and more than 33,000 road users killed during the last two decades.

A fuel crisis prompted Congress to set the Maximum National Speed Limit at 55 mph in 1974, and they linked adoption of the measure to critical federal highway grants to ensure that states would comply. While the goal of the MNSL may have been to reduce fuel consumption, its most immediate benefit was a sharp fall in road deaths. Worries about foreign oil eased during the 1980s, and the MNSL was softened in 1987 before being repealed completely in 1995.

Exceeding posted speed limits is reckless and irresponsible, and motorists who behave in this way often face both criminal and civil sanctions when they cause accidents and injuries. When experienced personal injury attorneys represent car accident victims, they may study police reports to find out whether or not excessive speed may have played a role. The conclusions of police officers and accident investigators carry weight with juries, and they may be used to establish liability and negligent behavior in court. Source: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Speed, July 2017