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Monday, July 20, 2009

Simple Ratio: Higher Speed Limits, More Deaths

Eric Nagourney writes:

The repeal of the national 55-mile-per-hour speed limit has made American highways a much deadlier place, a new study says.

The “failed policy of increased speed limits,” researchers write, was to blame for an estimated 12,500 deaths over a 10-year period. Their report appears in The American Journal of Public Health.

In 1974, hoping to reduce fuel consumption, Congress set a national speed limit of 55. After easing it in 1987, lawmakers got rid of it entirely in 1995, and since then the speed limit has risen in every state, the researchers said.

The study was based on highway fatality rates throughout most of the country. It found that while road deaths went down after the speed limit was lowered in 1974, they went back up an average of about 3 percent after 1995.

The lead author, Lee S. Friedman of the University of Illinois in Chicago, said that after the speed limit was removed, safety changes like the arrival of airbags should have brought the death rate down. That did not happen.

“The only explanation we can think of is the highway speeds,” Dr. Friedman said.

One way to reduce fatalities, the study said, is to improve enforcement of speeding laws. But the country could also go back to the 55-mile-per-hour system, Dr. Friedman said.

“We survived for 20 years on it,” he said. “We were doing perfectly fine.”

link: Vital Signs - Deaths Rise With Speed Limit -


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