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Raising the Speed Limit May Raise Risks

speed limit

Drivers desiring faster commutes might want a higher speed limit, but it may not be the safest choice. What about the safety needs of pedestrians, cyclists and others? A new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that raising posted speed limits may do little to save time and increase traffic flow. It could even lead to more crashes, injuries and deaths.

Is It Safe to Raise the Speed Limit?

“The study analyzed before-and-after data on a dozen roadways that raised or lowered posted speed limits and found no one-size-fits-all answer regarding the impact of these changes,” said Diana Gugliotta, Director of Public Affairs at AAA Northeast. “However, it is critical to consider the safety implications when local transportation authorities contemplate making changes to posted speed limits.”

Speeding is a critical factor in vehicle crashes across the nation. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were more than 42,000 traffic deaths in 2021 and again in 2022, the highest levels in 16 years. NHTSA reports that speeding was a factor in nearly 29% of the fatalities in 2021 and 27% in 2022.

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After examining various road types equally divided by higher or lower posted speed limits, the AAA Foundation found that raising posted speed limits was associated with increased crashes on two interstate highways, while lowering them led to fewer crashes in many cases. However, the likelihood of speed limit violations increased after lowering posted speed limits, suggesting the need for better public awareness education tied to these changes.

AAA urges transportation officials to apply a holistic approach when setting or changing posted speed limits and prioritize safety over speed and capacity.

The Road Ahead

AAA recommends that changes in posted speed limits should consider a range of factors, including the type of road, surrounding land use and historical crash data. AAA supports automated speed enforcement where appropriate, but programs must be carefully implemented to maintain community support, prioritize equity and consistently improve safety.

“The movement in statehouses to raise speed limits is happening across the country in at least eight states this year,” said Gugliotta. “But the benefits are overrated, and the risks are understated. Increasing speed limits does not always yield the positive results envisioned by traffic planners.”

This study is the third phase of the AAA Foundation research examining the effect of posted speed limit changes on safety. In the Foundation’s first study, traffic engineers were asked how posted speed limits are set and what factors they consider in changing them. In the second phase, crash testing revealed that small speed increases have severe and potentially deadly effects on crash outcomes.

Share you thoughts on raising or lowering speed limits in the comments below.


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5 Thoughts on “Raising the Speed Limit May Raise Risks

  1. Raising the speed limit is a dangerous idea and an equally dangerous risk. There’ll only be more accidents, more deaths, and more permanent maimings, as a result. The posted speed limits are the fastest speeds that one can go in ideal conditions, meaning when it’s a nice, dry and sunny day, with no precipitation, and when the paved roads are in mint condition, with no pot holes, frost heaves, or whatever. Driving at night is not an ideal condition, so it’s a good idea to slow down while driving at night, as well.

  2. Let’s start by re-educating drivers that the “left” lane is for passing only. Too many drivers just sit in the left lane barely doing the speed limit and causing huge backups. Use the left lane for passing only! These slow drivers are causing road rage. In regards to the speed limit, the speed should definitely be increased. Drivers are already exceeding the speed limit. 75-80mph would be ideal.

    1. Don’t blame road rage on slow speeds. Raising speed limits won’t eliminate or cure someone’s road rage. Confining slower drivers to the right lane is not always a practical choice for the slower driver.

      The cause of road rage resides in the person who is suffering the road rage. That person is not the victim of the slow driver: that person is a victim of his own inability to handle frustration and a lack of concern for other drivers.

      Someone who _acts out_ road rage is dangerous and shouldn’t have a driver’s license.

  3. Raising the speed limit does not cause any more or less incidents of accidents. Accidents will happen on highways, private roads , intersections, atv trails, etc. Some are avoidable, some are not. With the increase in population and the failure of government to forecast the need to expand ALL ROADWAYS there need to be an increase or deal with an increase in road-rage, longer drive times, increase in pollution, global warming, etc. I’ve been driving for over 35 years and have done personal research and observed the unofficial increase in the speed limit. Overall the normal unofficial highway speed limit is between 75-85mph. This has been like that for a number of years now, with no change in occurrences of accidents.

    1. That’s a bunch of hogwash, Christopher. Raising the speed limit is a dangerous idea, and it puts everybody in danger. Come on now.

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