The fatality consequences of the 65 mph speed limits, 1989

Baum, Herbert M. / Wells, JoAnn K. / Lund, Adrian K.
Journal of Safety Research
Winter 1991

This study examined whether the number of fatalities on rural interstates in 1989 was higher than would be expected based on experience during 1982–1986 and experience on all other roads. Among the 40 states that increased the speed limit to 65 mph on rural interstates, the number of fatalities was 29% higher than expected. Among the eight states retaining a 55 mph maximum speed limit on rural interstates, the observed number of fatalities was 12% lower than expected, although this reduction was not statistically significant. After adjusting the fatality risk on rural interstates for differences in vehicle miles traveled on those roads and for higher passenger vehicle occupancy rates attributable to possible increases in vacation travel, the increased fatality risk was 19%. These data suggest that the majority of the estimated increase in fatalities on rural interstates in 1989 (almost 400 of the approximately 600 extra deaths) can be attributed to the higher speeds resulting from the higher speed limits. Changes in mileage account for the remaining 200 extra deaths.