Should Highway Speed Limits Be Increased?
Should highway speed limits be increased? Should we strike down every sign that the government posts and uses to regulate the speed limit on the thousands of highways around the country? Should we trust the driving ability of each and every person to drive within a reasonably safe speed? The response that most people lean toward is one of negativity. People automatically assume that the speeds presently posted on our highways are there only for our own protection.
People do not believe that the government is knowingly implementing speed limits that are below a safe speed for a given roadway. It is true that the government claims to set speed limits that are for the public well being. As the United States Department of Transportation puts it, “Speed limits are appropriate speeds based on the traffic of an area, road conditions, weather, and the lighting” (The Star Ledger). But the fact of the matter is that their arguments have no factual basis. Suppose the government is really setting speed limits that are safe. If this were true, speed limits would change constantly. If the roadway were wet, if the traffic is thick, or the visibility is bad at a certain point in time then the speed limit would have to change continuously. But, the government can’t be on the highway twenty-four hours of the day changing signs. If the government wants to set a safe speed standard then it must be much more realistic. A driver knows their ability as well as their vehicles ability under diverse conditions. If the government tries to tell society that the faster speeds they are traveling is harmful; people will not feel that the government is looking out for their safety. They will instead feel as if though they were being treated as children. Therefor the speed limit on highways should be increased, and individuals should be allowed to drive at a safe “high” speed without being held back by an unrealistic law.
From first-hand experience, one should easily realize that the common man would feel negativity toward raising speed limits. People fall into this trap because the general public is often mislead into believing that abolishing speed limits on highways will only cause more harm than good. People often are the victims of misunderstanding and people rarely observe the advantages offered by increasing the speed limit to a safe level.
Misunderstandings that the public has range from a variety of ideas. People believe that “speed kills.” Republican Senator Michael DeWine asserted, “if we raise the speed limit people will die,” before the approval of the repeal on the nation-wide speed limit of 55 mph (Shemmens). Democratic Senator Frank Launtenberg agreed, “we’ll directly contribute to death and injury of thousands”(Johnson). However, the idea of speed killing is completely erroneous. Since someone has to move for there to be a collision, “speed” is the technically the cause of all car accidents. Although “speed” does kill, those who have actually been speeding at an unsafe level have only accounted for approximately one-third of all automobile related fatalities (The Star Ledger). However what these statistics don’t factor, is that majority of those who cause these accidents are not only guilty of speeding. “Speeding” is merely a small portion of accidents caused by an irresponsible driver who takes the lives of others lightly. People who commit these horrible atrocities including reckless and intoxicated driving should be punished, not those who merely drive faster than the posted speeds. A person who drives over the speed limit in a responsible way with the many safety features, such as air bags and reinforced steel frames, that have developed over the years is not a huge threat to the driving society.
The most popular misunderstanding is that with lower speeds the fatality rate will fall and with higher speeds the fatality rate will rise. Most people believe that driving at a lower speed will increase reaction time and cause less of an impact on the car and the driver. When driving in the same direction, reaction time on highways is relative. If everyone is going approximately 75 miles per hour on the highway than reaction time is the same as if you were going 30 miles per hour. Impacts would also follow along the same theory. The problem is that older people and inexperienced drivers tend to drive slower causing more harms than those who speed do. Because of this reasoning the government must look in to ways of punishing, or treating, slower, more dangerous drivers. Many states today have speed minimums, but still some don’t. Besides ticketing offenders the government should look at testing the elderly on their driving abilities in their old age.
Another argument about fatalities, directly relating to speed, could be made after looking at the changes of fatalities since the year 1974. In 1974 the government implemented a national speed limit on all highways of 55 miles per hour. As a result of this process government studies have shown that fatality rates had, in fact, decreased (Shemmens). The reason fatalities have decreased may not be as obvious as they seem. Strict government regulation on new safety features throughout the late seventies and early eighties was a significant source of saved lives. Also, the advances in the road structure and condition contributed greatly to a decline in deaths, not the standard low level of speed the government had implement only a decade earlier. Studies that took place over the most two recent speed changes will further disprove this theory produced by safety advocates.
In 1987 the government changed its mind and allowed states to have a speed limit of up to 65mph on rural Interstate routes. As a result of this speed increase safety advocates claim that there was a nation wide increase on fatalities. However the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found otherwise. Their reports show that there was an increase in the nation’s fatalities but the states that chose to increase their speed experienced a 3.5 % less of a fatality increase. (Shemmens)
Recently, The United States Department of transportation has done a study that will disprove the notion that fatalities vary with speed even further. When Congress repealed the NMLS law on December 8, 1995, many critics immediately claimed that more fatalities would result. Ralph Nader and various other critics estimated that passing the bill would cause at least 6400 more deaths than when the speed limit was set at 55 miles per hour nationally (Shemmens). Although the actual result was an increase in deaths, the increase was marginal compared to estimates. The actual death increase was only 109 lives. The human lives lost are valuable but it is important to note the actual deaths per-one hundred million miles had decrease for 1995 to 1996. The percentage of miles traveled was up 1.7 percent while fatalities only increased 0.3 percent for the year (Johnson).
After the new speed limits were placed on the 26 different states which decided to increase their speed limits, there was a surprising change. Out of the 26 states over half of them observed an increase in fatalities per one hundred million miles. Although, this is not the factor that has stunned many. The fact that the total death rate is down from 24,911 people in 1995 to 24,855 in 1996 is of much more importance. Some of the most notable decreases in fatalities include Mississippi – down 21percent, and Montana -down 10 percent. (Chaser) Montana is a wonderful example not only because of its decrease in fatalities but because of its unique situation. Montana is presently the only state where there is no daytime speed limit on the highways. California is also experiencing records with its lowest fatality rate since 1959. The average deaths per a year in California were 5500 people. However, since the repeal of the NMLS in 1995 the deaths per a year have dropped to only 5200. California is also unique. Since 1959 California’s population has doubled and the amount of cars and trucks has nearly tripled (Johnson).
Other countries of note that have had raised issues with speed and fatalities in the past are Germany, India, and the Philippines. What do these three countries have in common? The all abolished their speed limits. Although the amount of fatalities in these countries is often higher the amount of miles traveled is substantially higher. As a result of this their death rate per hundred miles is not much more than that of the United States. Germany has also managed to make up for its increase in accidents by creating cars with superior safety from the likes of Volkswagen to Mercedes-Benz. People generally think that with a higher speed limit or no speed limit at all like Germany that motorists will increase their speeds greatly.
The misunderstanding that motorists will drive approximately ten to fifteen miles faster than the posted speed limit is generally false. After looking at the 85th percentile this idea becomes clear. In a study performed by an independent group called, “The Society of Automotive Engineers,” it was found that people rarely respond to posted speed limits. The SAE found that approximately 85 percent of people do not take into consideration the posted speed limit while driving (Johnson). People drive at what speed they feel is safe and a speed that they feel is comfortable for the existing road conditions. Thus, if there were to be no speed limit at all people would still drive at what speed seems safest to them. The reason that most of these people are said to be speeding is that government sets limits that are often lower than the highest safe speed limit that could be imposed. The dramatic increase in those obeying the speed limit in recent Wisconsin study shows that individuals drive at what speed seems safe to them. In 1995, before the state had a speed increase, approximately only 8.0% of drivers were found to be obeying the speed limit. In 1996 when the speed limit was increased 35.1% of drivers obeyed the speed laws (Shemmens). This 310% change shows that people will continue to drive at their own pace. But it is important to keep in mind the other 64.9 drivers who feel that it is safe to drive at a higher speed. Increasing speed limits on highways would allow those who drive at a higher speed without a ticket.
The largest study done by our own government further encourages this theory. The United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration performed a study of 22 states and over 100 sites before and after speed limits were altered. The study involved a long-term approach on 14 of the sites. The study found that lowering the speed limit as much as 20 miles per hour and increasing it as much as 15 miles per hour has little effect on speed. The findings were also that when the speed limit is below the 50 percentile, that is 50 out of 100 driver’s speed’s, it did not decrease the speed of individuals or decrease accidents but it did increase the number of speeding violations (Shemmens). The problems caused by speed limits on the highways can not only be solved by looking at the many misconceptions that people have about speed but by looking at the many advantages of no speed limits on highways.
The advantages of abolishing speed limits on highways have rarely been noticed. Advocates of the mandatory national speed limit in 1974 not only claimed that a speed limit of 55 miles per hour would save lives but that it would also help to cut pollution 1%. It is true that when cars run faster they burn fuel quicker and end up polluting faster. However it is important to note that cars only account for 2.3% of man made green house gases. That is a miniscule amount compared to the many incinerates around the country, which contributes up to 3 times as much (Shemmens). What is more important is that people are allowed to travel faster they tend to go to more places frequently. This “traveling effect” causes an increase in business, which in turn help to boost the economy. People do not only end up buying more gas but hey end up buying more electronics, more food, more clothes etc. at the new places they visit.
Quick travel leads to more free time. As a result they will have more time to complete tasks, increase quality as well as productivity. One can easily see that a job would be done better or more would be produced. People will also live with less stress. It is my opinion that slower driving or traffic is a major part of stress. People will be able to have the feeling of exhilaration that you can only get from realizing that speed is the key to life. The thrill of a fast ride not only gives you the experience of exhilaration but the knowledge that less of your life is being wasted away in a slow stressful environment. Driver’s will less of from traffic problems. They won’t worry as much about being late. They will have more time for recreation. Increasing speed limits will not only increase the well being of drivers, but it will have a positive affect on other.
Police will no longer have to spend their precious time setting up speed traps and going to court to prosecute “offenders.” They will now be able to focus their time on more serious crimes such as robbery and murder. Changing the speed limit is a benefit that can be observed by all, because of such a reward, not just those behind the wheel.
In conclusion, the public’s lack of knowledge and the rarely noticed positive aspects on increasing speed limits on highways have kept people from supporting it. People should look at all the facts, including the growing trends elaborated on by the states in making speed limits. The nation should follow the trend of the 29 states at 65mph, 18 at 70mph, 10 at 75mph and 1 with no daytime speed limit (Montana). These Evolution shows that state by state we are starting to realize that speed limits, right now, are, for the majority, unrealistic. Whether or not the states should increase their speed limits to 75 mph or to 85mph on highways, I do not know. But what is more important is that the government must be more realistic and honest with the nation by increasing the states’ speed limits to a more reasonable level.