Every day I drive to work on one of the busiest freeways in the country. That freeway has a posted speed limit of 55-65 miles per hour. I am amazed how many drivers disregard the posted speed limit and use the freeway as their opportunity to drive like they are in the Indy 500.
Many people speed because they are trying to make it to their destination sooner. But here’s the thing – according to AAA, on a 30-mile trip, you would only arrive 8 minutes sooner driving at 75 miles per hour (a dangerous, and rarely posted speed limit) than you would driving 55 miles per hour.
Saving 8 minutes on a trip isn’t worth the increased risk of taking a life. On average, 10,000 people die every year in speeding-related traffic crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In 2017, the NTSB released a Safety Study, “Reducing Speeding-Related Crashes Involving Passenger Vehicles” which examined the trends in speeding-related passenger vehicle crashes and identified proven and promising countermeasures to prevent these crashes. We issued 19 safety recommendations which, if implemented, will prevent future crashes and save lives.
One of those safety recommendations was issued to the Federal Highway Administration. We recommended that they remove guidance to states to set speed limits within 5 miles per hour of what 85% of the traffic is travelling at, which only leads to ever-increasing speed limits. Since the mid-1990s, we have watched more and more states increase their speed limits up to 80-85 miles per hour. Just because 85% of traffic is flowing at 80 miles per hour, doesn’t mean speed limits should be set at that speed! At this rate, in 10 years, we could see states increasing their speed limits to 90 miles per hour!
Speeding increases the likelihood of being involved in a crash and intensifies the severity of injuries sustained in a crash. According to the World Health Organization, vehicle occupants involved in a crash with an impact speed of 50 mph are 20 times more likely to die than had the vehicle been traveling at 20 mph. Additionally, the impact of vehicle speed in urban areas where there are more vulnerable road users like pedestrians and bicyclists is even more serious.
Now, you might be thinking, Member Homendy, I’m not the Federal Highway Administration, I can’t implement this recommendation. That is true. What you can do is drive the posted speed limit and you can talk to your friends and family about doing that too. And if you’re a parent of a young driver, demonstrate and talk to them about safe driving behaviors and especially about speed limits.
Across the country, states have raised and are considering raising speed limits on their roads to dangerous levels. And many of those decisions are based on the 85th percentile speed of free-flowing traffic. We shouldn’t base decisions about speed limits on behaviors we know are dangerous. Higher speeds create the opportunity for even more fatal crashes.
The issue of speeding is highlighted on our 2019–2020 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements (Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Speeding-Related Crashes).