What Effect Does Speed Limit Have on Motor Vehicle Accidents?

Speed limits have gradually increased all across the country for many reasons. There are more cars on the road than ever before and streamlining traffic flow is important in many areas of the country that struggle with severe commuting traffic congestion. Moving vehicles through congested areas more quickly seems like a logical answer to the congestion problem. Modern cars are safer than older models that do not have the same safety and navigation features. However, statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) indicate that increasing speed limits may be causing more traffic-related deaths than initially expected.

Higher Speeds Are Inherently More Dangerous

Maximum speed limits have been increasing across the country since 1995. This follows years of government restriction under the National Maximum Speed Limit law of 1973, which set the maximum speed limit in the country at 55 mph. Originally, Congress passed this law in light of fuel scarcity concerns, and one of the unexpected outcomes was a marked decrease in traffic fatalities. However, Congress relaxed this law in 1987 and increased the maximum speed limit to 65 mph and then completely repealed the law in 1995. Today, there are six states that have maximum speed limits of 80 mph. Texas drivers may even travel at 85 mph on some roads.

Unfortunately, the logic behind raising the speed limit in some areas is the belief that drivers are exceeding the speed limit anyway, so raising it simply brings the law up to speed with reality. However, drivers generally exceed speed limits anyway, so raising speed limits simply leads to drivers going even faster. A long-term study of speed increases reported that for every 5 mph increase, traffic fatalities increased by 4%. Over 20 years, this means speed increases resulted in about 33,000 traffic fatalities in the United States.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), speeding accounted for 27% of all traffic fatalities in 2016, for a total of 10,111 speeding-related deaths. When states increase speed limits, they do not reduce the number of car accidents or moving violations.

Why Is Speeding So Dangerous?

There are several reasons speeding is incredibly dangerous. Primarily, it’s much easier for a driver to lose control of a vehicle at higher speeds. A driver may not have enough time or space to come to a stop and avoid an accident at high speed, and other drivers nearby may not expect another driver to be excessively speeding.

Built-in vehicle safety features may not function as effectively in high-speed crashes as well. Many modern vehicles feature robust air bag deployment systems, but manufacturers develop these features using average estimated speeds in mind. For example, since the maximum speed limit in the country is 85 mph in Texas, a vehicle manufacturer may test to ensure their airbags function correctly at up to 95 mph to provide a moderate buffer for efficacy. A driver who causes an accident at 100 mph or faster may not be able to rely on vehicle safety features as much as they could at lower speeds.

There is a certain detachment that occurs while driving that can make it difficult for some to acknowledge the effects of their driving on others on the road. Some drivers are more inclined to engage in dangerous maneuvers, such as speeding or quick lane changes, because they are anonymous to the other drivers on the road, and vice versa.

Ultimately, every state sets a maximum speed limit based on perceived traffic needs, but speed limit increases almost always lead to higher fatal accident rates. It’s crucial for all drivers to appreciate the dangers of speeding and abide by posted speed limits at all times.