Fatalities, tickets rise with speed limit
By TODD DORMAN, Globe Gazette Des Moines Bureau
DES MOINES — Iowa has seen more fatalities and hundreds of additional speeding tickets since the state raised its speed limit on rural interstates, according to a report issued Thursday.
The speed limit on rural superhighways jumped from 65 to 70 mph on July 1, 2005. Since then, 48 people have died in interstate crashes compared to 41 during the same period in 2004-2005, according to numbers released by the Iowa State Patrol.
The state patrol also issued 27,000 speeding citations on interstates during that period — an increase of roughly 2,000 tickets compared to 2004-2005. Public safety officials attributed the jump to beefed-up enforcement efforts.
Even as they issued the numbers, officials insisted they paint a flawed picture of the true impact of the 70 mph limit. They couldn’t say how many of the fatalities occurred on stretches where the speed limit was raised, nor could they confirm how many of the deaths could be directly attributed to speeding.
“While any increase in fatalities is unfortunate, it would be premature to attribute an increase in fatalities to the 70 mph speed limit without additional research,” Col. Robert Garrison, chief of the Iowa State Patrol, said in a statement.
State Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, agrees that a one-year snapshot doesn’t tell the whole story. He was among 23 senators who voted against raising the rural speed limit in 2005, arguing that the change would make Iowa’s roads less safe.
“But I think it does raise some concerns,” Quirmbach said. “If the pattern continues, I would certainly hope that the Legislature would revisit the issue.”
Other states that raised the speed limit have seen such a pattern.
According to a study released in May by the Iowa Department of Transportation, five Midwestern states that raised their speed limits eight years ago — Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota — have seen increases in highway fatalities ranging from 7 to 13 percent annually.
Iowa may already be following its neighbors. The state averaged 31 fatalities on its interstates between 2001 and 2004, according to the DOT report. In 2005, which included six months with the higher interstate limit, fatalities rose to 47.
Although more tickets were issued, the DOT reported that the average speed traveled on interstates has increased only slightly, to 71.42 mph from just over 70 mph a year ago. Officials pointed to a public education campaign the increased presence of troopers on interstates.