The speed limits on certain stretches of I-84 east of Boise, Idaho were raised from 75 miles per hour to 80 miles per hour earlier this year. Since the increase was put into effect, police have written 300 more speeding tickets. It seems that the increase in speeding tickets can be attributed to more troopers enforcing the speed limit at 80 miles per hour than those enforcing the speed limit when it was 75 miles per hour. Troopers seem more likely to ticket a driver going only a few miles over 80 miles per hour than a driver in prior years who had been driving a few miles above the old 75 miles per hour speed limit.
A Highway Patrol spokesperson, speaking to the Idaho Statesman, explained that the Highway Patrol’s main goal is to keep the highways as safe as possible, and 80 miles per hour seems fast enough for most officers on the road.
An increase in tickets is one thing. But many worry that the increased speed limit will lead to more car accidents, motorcycle accidents, and truck accidents on the stretches of highway subject to the changes.
Senate Majority Leader, Bart Davis, who introduced the bill, explained that he looked to Utah and found that Utah crashes did not increase after the speed limit on its rural roads were increased. Davis explained that Idaho’s rural roads are very similar to those in Utah.
Yet, the speed limit increase definitely has its critics. AAA claimed that based on anecdotal evidence, there is evidence of an increase on the number of car accidents and crashes on highways where the speed limit was raised. AAA explains that the accidents occur when cars are moving at different speeds.
Yet, does the anecdotal evidence stand up to more long-term studies?
The U.S. Department of Transportation performed research on driver behavior following the raising and lowering of speed limits. Data was collected in 22 states to determine the short and long-term effect of changing speed limits.
The study found that lowering the speed limit by 20 miles per hour or raising the speed limit by 15 miles per hour had little effect on the overall average speed of traffic. The study further found that lowering speed limits significantly did not decrease the number of accidents, but rather only served to increase the number of violations of the speed limit that were reported. Raising the speed limit also did not elevate the overall speed of traffic, nor did it lead to more accidents.
The World Health Organization reports that globally, 1.24 million people die each year from traffic accidents. The five risk factors contributing to these accidents are: speed, drunk driving, failure to use helmets, failure to use seat belts, and failure to use child restraints.
Traffic engineers explain that speed limits should reflect the maximum speed considered safe under good conditions. There is currently a lack of consensus regarding what a safe and reasonable maximum speed limit should be. This is why speed limits can vary so widely from state to state.
The fact remains: more severe accidents occur at higher speeds. Drivers are more likely to be severely injured or killed in an accident involving high speeds. The problem of setting safe speed limits is compounded by the fact that many drivers disregard speed limits. It is socially-accepted practice to drive faster than posted limits. This could pose a hazard to slower drivers who are actually following the law.
The U.S. Department of Transportation noted that drivers will always ignore unreasonable speed limits. Because of this, municipalities need to find a happy medium that helps regulate the flow of traffic in the most reasonable manner possible, without creating more hazards.