12,000 Traffic Deaths Linked to Higher Speed Limits


A recent research published in the American Journal of Public Health is forcing many insurance companies to reconsider their risk assessment practices.

12,000 Traffic Deaths Linked to Higher Speed LimitsBased on data collected from 1995 to 2005, some 12,500 vehicular fatalities are believed to be directly linked with higher U.S. speed limits. The federal government gave states the right to set their own speed limits in 1995. Prior to that, Americans had to drive below a 55 mph speed restriction implemented in 1974. The national speed limit was imposed in the wake of an oil embargo in 1973.

Experts say that the federal speed limit also lead to an unexpected decline in the number of car crash mortalities. In fact, vehicular deaths fell 16.4 percent in just a year’s time after the law was passed. More than a decade later, however, Congress allowed states to increase the speed restrictions on rural interstate highways to 65 mph. Forty-one states did so.

According to Dr. Lee S. Friedman, one of the study’s authors, most researches done on traffic fatalities made use of only two years’ data from selected states. He points out that this often leads to inconclusive findings and often-erroneous conclusions. The latest study analyzed data taken from a much longer period to come up with concrete findings.

The researchers were able to find out that the higher speed limits led to an increase of 3.2 percent in road deaths. This figure is higher in rural interstate highways with a 9.1 percent increase. Data from urban centers and interstates reveal a modest four percent increase.

The research also revealed that most of the sudden jumps in road mortalities occurred in states that had increased speed limits to 65 mph after the federal government lifted restrictions.

Insurance experts say that road deaths even declined in states that retained the 55 mph speed limit. They add that based on the study by Friedman and his colleagues, some 12,545 deaths are thought to be connected with the higher speed limit. It is also estimated that the same fatal crashes resulted in 36,583 more injuries.

Insurance companies, known for being keen observers of new research data regarding road safety, are expected to implement sweeping changes in their assessment practices. Industry sources say that providers might consider policyholders from states with higher speed limits more prone to accidents and injuries. This can eventually lead to higher premiums, they warn.

For his part, Friedman says that installing speed cameras to monitor speeding motorists can help reduce deaths caused by over speeding.