Have traffic deaths increased drastically with higher speed limits? That’s what a new study would like you to believe with its incredible-sounding conclusions: 12,545 deaths are attributable to higher speed limits! Sounds like lowering speed limits would save lives, right? Wrong. The study looked at the years 1995-2005, and didn’t look at any recent data. So what does the recent data show? Contrary to what the first study would have you believe, traffic deaths are at their lowest levels since the early 1960s. Lower speeds would save more lives, but so would not driving at all. Click through for more analysis.
Why are we confident that one is more correct than the other? Well, the current statistics that show a reduction in traffic deaths are from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, not historically a friend of higher speed limits. Who released the other study? The School of Public Health at the University of Illinois, who are smart and well-intentioned people who sought to prove the narrow point that reduced speeds statistically lead to fewer deaths. That is true, but reflects a reality on paper, not actual current conditions. Their conclusions were based on old data, and showed a trend that is contradicted by the current data.
The bottom line? The study reads like a drastic call to reduce speeds to save lives, but increasing vehicle safety due to better safety equipment since 2005 and other current trends mean the old study is obsolete. The US is on track to have less than 30,000 traffic fatalities this year … still a huge number, but way down from the 37,261 who died last year … and that was the lowest fatality rate since 1961. Not sure who to believe? Read both articles and draw your own conclusions. And drive safely!