Speed Limits: Fear vs. Fact
By Ben Langlotz
Edited by Kevin Atkinson
Jan 29, 1996
- "Speed Kills!"
- A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) publication
reports "no significant relationship between average speed and the
fatality rate." And, "states with high average speeds do not have
higher fatality rates than states with low average speeds."
- "Fatalities are up."
- The fatality rate has been dropping steadily for decades, and is at
an all time low. Absolute fatality numbers are deceptive, since they
ignore the increasing number of cars on the road. Each motorist is
safer than ever. (US DOT)
- "Everyone will drive 10 mph over the limit."
- According to a 7-year, 1992 Federal Highway Administration (FHwA)
study in which speed limits were varied at 100 locations nationwide
and the resulting traffic flow analyzed, "raising posted speed limits
by as much as 15 mph had little effect on motorists’ speeds," and
"contrary to public perception…the data actually indicate that
accident rates were reduced at sites where speed limits were raised."
Actual speeds rose only 1-2 mph on those interstates raising the
limit to 65 mph in 1987, and the fastest 1% of drivers slowed down.
- "High speed highways are unsafe."
- Only 4% of serious or fatal accidents occur on rural interstates
nationwide. These are the safest highways in the nation. (US DOT)
[For example:] Oregon fastest interstates have a fatality rate about half that of
all other roads. (ODOT)
The Oregon Traffic Safety Commission's list of eight "very
dangerous" highway stretches includes no interstates or divided
highways. (The Oregonian)
- "Raising the limit to 65 mph raised fatalities."
- Comparing the years before and after the increase in the Federal
limit to 65 mph in 1987, the fatality rate dropped by 3.5% lower on
all roads in the 40 states that raised freeway
limits than in the 10 that didn't. Some of the benefits came from
drivers switching to faster, safer interstates from dangerous country
roads. Thus, analysts who ignored the non-interstates and who used
total fatalities instead of rates reached the opposite conclusion.
Since limits were raised from 55 to 65, the national fatality rate
has declined by 34%. (US DOT)
- "Lowering the limit in 1973 saved lives."
- 1974 enjoyed a substantial drop, but in the decades since, the
fatality rate has dropped by another 50%, even as actual motorists'
speeds have increased.
- "1/3 of fatal accidents are 'speed related'"
- True, but NHTSA's definition of "speed related" includes 1) improper
lane changes, 2) following to closely, 3) unsafe passing, 4)
inattention, 5) reckless driving, 6) high speed chase, 7) erratic
speeds, 8) driving too fast for conditions (not necessarily above the
limit), and 9) driving less than posted minimums.
Only 5% of fatalities are due to excess speed, irrespective of speed
Because 72% of Oregonians "speed" on the highway, you would
expect 72% of highway accidents to involve speeders; the actual numbers are
National Motorists Association, Oregon Chapter Coordinator