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How Are Speed Limits Set – And Are They Enough To Keep People Safe?

How Are Speed Limits Set – And Are They Enough To Keep People Safe?

Speeding is one of the leading cause of motor vehicle crashes.  A recent article on Five Thirty Eight indicated that speed limits can have a major impact on the risk of death occurring on the road. Despite the fact that there may be thousands more deaths when speed limits are set too high, a very unscientific process is used to set limits.

Drivers need to ensure they travel not just below the speed limit, but also at a speed that is safe based on the conditions of the road at the time when they are behind the wheel. If a motorist is going too fast to be safe, he or she can be sued for any resulting crash. A Charleston, SC accident lawyer should be consulted for help taking legal action when an accident happens due to a speeding driver.

Speed Limit Laws and Driver Safety

From 1974 to 1996, a National Maximum Speed Limit Law set a nationwide maximum speed limit that applied to all interstate highways. The nationwide maximum speed limit was 55 miles per hour from 1974 to 1987, and was then raised to 65 MPH. After the National Maximum Speed Limit law was removed in 1995, there was a 3.2 percent increase in road accidents attributable to the fact that every state increased its speed limits.  Over a 10-year period of time, the fact that states adopted speeds above 65 MPH resulted in 12,545 deaths that would not have otherwise occurred.

A study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that once a car’s speed goes above 15 MPH, even small changes in how fast a car is going can make a big impact on the number of fatalities that occur. For example, if a pedestrian is hit by a car going 23 MPH, he has a 10 percent risk of dying in the crash. If a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle going 32 MPH, he has a 25 percent risk of dying.

This difference is significant. Yet, states don’t use scientific analyses of crash risks of motorist fatalities to determine what an appropriate speed limit is. Instead, the process of setting a speed limit is inexact.

The process begins when traffic safety engineers conduct a study to measure how quickly cars move along a given road, on average. The state then sets the speed limit at the 85th percentile of how fast the cars are going.  While some other factors may be taken into account, the usual process is simply to use this method to set the speed at the level where most drivers feel safe.  This process has been dubbed “rational speed limits.”

If a better and more scientific system was used, perhaps speed limits could be set at a more appropriate level in order to minimize the number of highway deaths that occur.  Unfortunately, this approach has been widely adopted and used for decades so it is unlikely to change. Drivers need to be aware of the risks of going too fast and make smart choices behind the wheel. If they don’t, a Charleston, SC accident lawyer should be consulted for help making an accident claim.

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