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Would more lives have been saved if 55 survived?

On behalf of Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf LLP | Apr 24, 2019 |

As an oil crisis gripped the United States in the early seventies, leaders in the nation’s capital were looking for answers to a growing energy problem. Proposed solutions included a ban on ornamental lighting on cars and Sunday gas sales. Discussions began to hone in on lowering the national speed limit. Initial talks focused on the 40 to 55 miles per hour range.

In 1973, the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act became the law of the land and launched the National Maximum Speed Law, establishing a uniform speed limit of 55 miles per hour. To ensure that all states complied, federal funding for highway repair became a condition to states implementing the new speed limit. Any state refusing would be denied financial support to maintain their roads.

The early nineties saw the abolishment of the 55-mph mandate. More than 40 states responded by establishing new speed limits at 70 mph on highways. A handful of states set their increases at 80 mph. Drivers on a particular tollway in Texas can legally set their cruise controls at 85 mph.

The restoration of the pre-seventies speed limits allowed drivers to put the pedal closer to the metal. One crisis was long over. Yet, based on a recent study, another one began.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found that over the past 25 years, rising speed limits have resulted in nearly 37,000 traffic-related deaths. The insurance industry-funded study places the blame on rising speed limits nationwide. Specifically, they found that fatalities increased 8.5 percent per every five-mph increase.

IIHS acknowledges that while road deaths are down, the fatal accidents are still more than what they would have been had the 55-mph speed limit remained law. Also, 1,900 lives may have been saved in 2017 alone.

While higher speed limits save time, the aftermath is revealing more deaths on the road, particularly when negligent and impaired drivers ignore the modern maximum mph.