Studies show higher speed limits do not increase accidents

By Robynn Garfield | Posted - Sep 5th, 2013 @ 7:05am

SALT LAKE CITY — A recent article in Time magazine highlights problems with so-called "speed traps," or stretches of road ways prone to attract speeding tickets. Politicians and law enforcement agencies are weighing in on the issue and trying to decide what to do with speed limits, speed traps, and road safety.

A speed trap is typically an area where the speed limit drops suddenly, or where the posted speed limit is much lower than the common speed driven by motorists. The Time magazine article points out that studies have shown that higher speed limits don't lead to an increase in accidents.

Time magazine interviewed Michigan state Sen. Rick Jones. Jones worked as a law enforcement officer for 30 years before becoming a politician and has made it a goal to set sensible speed limits in his state.

"Politicians should never set speed limits," Jones said. "That's how you get speed traps. It should be done scientifically by the Michigan state police or the police in areas where a study is done."

Jones said he believes speed limits should be set using data and studies from traffic researchers, not by local politicians who may not have all the information.

A study conducted by the National Motorists Association raised and lowered speed limits throughout areas in "urban and rural nonlimited access highways." The findings showed that when the limit was posted at a speed traveled by 85 percent of motorists (or when the speed limit was raised), accidents did not increase.

"Establishing posted speed limits in accordance with the 85th percentile speed is one of the most important traffic safety tenets," said Gary Biller, president of the NMA. "By doing so, the differential speed among vehicles on the road is minimized and it is differential speed that can be a major factor in causing accidents."

In Utah, the speed limit posted on major highways ranges between 65 and 80 miles per hour. A bill passed in February of 2013 to raise the limit from 75 to 80 in rural areas of main freeways.

Jones supports the conclusions found in the NMA study and said he thinks speed limits should abide by the "85 percent rule", or that the limit on main roads should be set at the speed 85 percent of motorists drive.

Legislators in many states are pushing to update speed limits to levels that correspond to data and traffic studies. Jones said he doesn't support "revenue-raising speed traps that unfairly target drivers," and hopes that in the years to come speed limits will reflect natural driving speeds.

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