Those are the words of Patrick O’Neill, in his opinion editorial against the current NC Senate bill to raise the maximum speed limit in North Carolina.
Senate Bill 704 passed the Senate earlier this year and has moved over to the House. The bill seeks to raise the limit from 70 mph to 75mph on certain roads.
North Carolina is one of several states considering a speed limit hike this year. Illinois, Maine, Ohio and Utah have all already passed legislation to raise their maximum limits.
Analysts say this newest push for higher speeds might be a result of last year – when Texas received national attention after changing their maximum speed limit to 85 mph, a new national high.
According to a report by WRAL, “sixteen states already have speed limits of 75 mph or higher, but if approved, North Carolina would be the first on the more densely populated East Coast.”
In Patrick’s mind at least, the outcome of these legislative choices is very clear cut: higher speeds = more fatalities.
So what are the facts?
Research on the link between speed limit increases and car accidents is actually quite controversial.
Proponents of higher speed limits point to research, such as the Indiana Department of Transportation’s study, that concluded that accident severity varied little for limits between 55 to 70 mph.
However, for limits increased further to 75 or 80 mph, they said:
“To be sure, the additional speed would increase stopping distances and the energy that would need to be dissipated in the accident. Furthermore…higher speed limits may start increasing the variance in driver speeds as some drivers continue to drive at or above the speed limit while others drive below the speed limit because it may have been raised above their “optimum” speed. With these factors considered (along with others that may come into play, such as variations in driver behavior in response to speed limits), there is likely a point beyond which higher speed limits would significantly increase the severity of accidents on Interstates.”
Those opposing higher speed limits cite studies such as this one that estimates there were 12,545 additional fatalities after the national speed limit was abolished in 1995 when states began raising their individual speed limits.
The “safest” speeds
According to the National Association of Motorists, traffic engineers say that speed limits should be set by the 85th percentile of free flowing traffic for safety reasons. Meaning limits would be set at what 85% of people are currently driving on the road in question.
The logic behind this idea is that it would encourage drivers to travel at the same speed and thereby reduce the chance of a car traveling at a higher rate to crash into a slower-moving vehicle.
What makes “safe” speeds unsafe
However, many argue that the 85th percentile is a “moving target” because people continuously travel 5-10 mph above the posted limit – no matter how high it goes.
According to Kara Macek, a spokeswoman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, higher speeds don’t necessarily mean more accidents, but they do mean the accidents that do occur tend to be more severe.
“It’s a simple matter of physics,” she says. “The faster you’re going, the worse your injuries will be.”
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