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Status Report, Vol. 49, No. 6 | July 30, 2014 Subscribe

Despite risk, states keep raising speed limit

Maximum posted daytime speed limits on rural interstates, July 2014

Loosening speed limits on U.S. freeways and interstates appears to be in vogue among some state lawmakers regardless of the safety costs. This year, four states have raised posted limits to as high as 80 mph or extended maximum limits to more roads. In all, 38 states have speed limits of 70 mph or higher on some portion of their roads.

Idaho and Wyoming raised the maximum speed limit from 75 to 80 mph on interstates, effective July 1 in both states. In Utah, the current maximum posted speed limit is 80 mph. Last year the state increased the number of interstate segments posted at 80 mph and decided this spring to allow other DOT-approved freeways to be posted in excess of 75 mph, effective in May. Georgia raised limits on urban interstates to 70 mph, up from 65 mph.

Several other states have unsuccessfully tried to raise speed limits this year. Florida Gov. Rick Scott in May vetoed a bill that would have lifted speed limits on portions of interstates throughout the state to as fast as 75 mph. In Maryland, a bill would have raised limits to 70 mph on interstates. Other states that considered similar moves include Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

During the 2013 state legislative season, six states (Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah) either raised maximum speed limits or expanded the maximum speed limit to cover more roads.

Driving faster may put motorists at their destinations a bit sooner, but that doesn't mean the journey will be a safe one. More than 10,000 deaths — about a third of all crash fatalities — occurred in speed-related crashes during 2012. High speeds make a crash more likely because they increase the distance needed to stop a vehicle. Collisions also become more deadly because crash energy increases exponentially as speeds go up. Research shows that raising speed limits leads to more deaths (see Status Report special issue: speeding, Nov. 22, 2003).

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a May report estimates that crashes involving a speeding vehicle traveling over the posted limit or too fast for conditions cost the nation $59 billion in 2010, an average of $191 for every person in the U.S.

Meanwhile, at least one locality is intent on lowering speed limits this year. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio in June won approval from state lawmakers in Albany to lower the default speed limit to 25 mph from 30 mph with an eye toward making city streets safer for pedestrians. The bill awaits Gov. Andrew Cuomo's expected signature before heading to the New York City Council for approval.

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