More crashes result of higher rural interstate speed limits

As speed limits have increased on Ohio’s rural interstate highways, so have injury and property crashes.

There has been a 21 percent increase in crashes on interstate highways where the speed limit has been raised to 70 mph since 2013, according to the Ohio Highway Patrol.

“Motorists have to understand that as speed (of the car) increases, the reaction time decreases to adjust to conditions such as changing lanes, an object in the road, something falling off a truck or a deer crossing the road,” said Lt. Craig Cvetan, the Ohio Highway Patrol’s public affairs commander. “Any steering or braking maneuvers at higher speeds makes it easier to lose control of a vehicle.”

Drivers also need to focus on the task of driving without being distracted, such as talking on a cell phone, he said.

“Those little errors are also compounded (while going at higher speed),” Cvetan said. “People don’t adjust and reduce speed accordingly for road or weather conditions.”

Highway patrol troopers have investigated 333,927 crashes on all roads, state routes and interstate highways from 2011 through 2015.

A state analysis showed that crashes jumped by 19 percent, from about 8,600 in the two years before the increase to about 10,200 in the two years after.

During that same time, fatalities decreased only slightly from 48 to 43, according to the Ohio Highway Patrol.

This contradicts with findings by an independent nonprofit insurance organization, which recently said increases in speed limits across the nation have resulted in more traffic fatalities.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a study this month showing that increases in speed limits over two decades have cost 33,000 lives in the U.S. In 2013 alone, the increases resulted in 1,900 additional deaths, essentially canceling out the number of lives saved by frontal airbags that year, researchers said.

“Although fatality rates fell during the study period, they would have been much lower if not for states’ decisions to raise speed limits,” says Charles Farmer, IIHS vice president for research and statistical services and the author of the study.

Maximum speed limits are set by the states, and they have been on the rise since 1995.

During most of the 1970s and 1980s, the threat of financial penalties held state speed limits to 55 mph. In 1973, Congress required that states adopt 55 mph as their maximum speed limit in order to receive their share of highway funds.

In 1987, Congress relaxed the restriction, allowing states to increase speed limits to 65 mph on rural interstates. The law was completely repealed in 1995.

Proponents of raising the speed limit often argue that such increases simply bring the law in line with reality, since most drivers exceed the limit.

Others argue that once the limit is raised, however, drivers just go even faster.

The new study looked at the effect of all speed limit increases from 1993 to 2013 in 41 states. Nine states and the District of Columbia were excluded because they had relatively few vehicle miles traveled each year, leading to wide fluctuations in their annual fatality rates.

“Since 2013, speeds have only become more extreme, and the trend shows no sign of abating,” Farmer said. “We hope state lawmakers will keep in mind the deadly consequences of higher speeds when they consider raising limits.”

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