Increasing The Speed Limit Puts Lives At Risk

Distracted Driving Accident

Is there a nationwide push to increase speed limits on Interstate highways? In 2015, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming all increased Interstate speed limits to 80 miles per hour. Washington increased its speed limit on certain highways to 75 miles per hour.

In 2017, Michigan followed with an increase to 75 miles per hour on certain highways. And, a bill increasing the speed limit in Arkansas is nearing passage.

A couple years ago, published a survey discussing the possibility of raising the speed limit on Interstate highways in Alabama from 70 to 75. The article is titled:

A Little More Pedal To The Metal: Higher Max Speed Limits On Alabama Interstates Draw Support

According to the article, the overwhelming majority of survey respondents supported an increase in the speed limit. Most people favored an increase to 80 miles per hour. Of course, the poll was not scientific. It was simply a survey of readers who wished to respond.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has studied the impact of speed limits upon traffic crashes for decades. According, to a 2016 report by the IIHS, state speed limits “have been on the rise since 1995.” The IIHS reviewed and studied data from these two decades of increasing speed limits. In a 2016 publication the IIHS stated:

A new IIHS study shows that increases in speed limits over two decades have cost 33,000 lives in the U.S. In 2013 alone, the increases resulted in 1,900 additional deaths, essentially canceling out the number of lives saved by frontal airbags that year.

The IIHS study likely understates the problem. I think it significantly understates the number of fatalities. Deaths due to speed limit increases are probably much greater. Why? The IIHS study stopped after 2013. Since then, several states (including those mentioned at the beginning of this article) have increased their speed limits. The IIHS study also considered only the maximum speed limit which typically applies to rural Interstates. Some states also raised other speed limits on smaller roads or in urban areas.

The Michigan Department of Transportation conducted detailed research on the impact of a potential speed limit increase in that state. According to its analysis, a speed limit increase from 70 to 75 in that state would result in a 17.6% increase in fatal crashes. An increase to 80 miles per hour would result in a fatal crash increase of 29.4%. Despite the study, Michigan moved forward with increasing its freeway maximum speed limit.

Poor road conditions are also an issue. Alabama faces poor road conditions which would make any speed limit increase much more dangerous. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) releases an annual Infrastructure Report Card for states. In 2017, ASCE graded Alabama’s roadways as a D+. Let that almost failing grade sink in for a moment. D+. That’s a terrible grade. Here is some of what the ASCE report says about Alabama roads:

the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) rated almost 50% of the interstate and state highways fair, poor, or very poor showing that maintenance must be a priority.

Our firm recently examined ALDOT’s file on a highway project in the Huntsville area. Our client suffered disabling injuries from a car crash in a construction zone. After also investigating a number of other ALDOT files over the years, I’m convinced our State lacks the funds or personnel to keep our roads in a decent condition. Potholes, uneven surfaces, congested roadways. worn pavement. Poorly maintained roads increase the danger of speed tremendously.

Will Alabama increase its maximum highway speed limit? I hope not. We already face tremendous safety issues related to poor roadways, distracted drivers, impaired drivers and the many uninsured drivers on our roads. Car accidents already cost our communities tremendously. We don’t need the added problems of increased speed limits putting more lives at risk. In our personal injury practice, we routinely see the injuries and damages caused by poor behavior on Alabama roadways. We believe our officials should make safety a top  priority.