Originally Posted by drive.com.auBy Andrew Heasley
Thursday June 30 2005
Raising speed limits has little effect on the rate of road fatalities, according to latest research by an American university academic.
"The assertion that speed kills, and more speed kills more, is mostly unfounded," says Robert Yowell, an assistant professor at Stephen F. Austin State University, in Texas.
Dr Yowell researched US speed limit policies and laws and reviewed academic papers from the mid-1970s to the mid-'90s, looking at the effect increasing or decreasing speed limits had on the rate of fatalities on distance travelled.
Far from being a road-safety measure, Dr Yowell argues the country-wide imposition of a 55 mph (89 km/h) freeway speed limit, introduced across the US in 1974 (down from 70-75 mph previously) was not to save lives, but to conserve fuel during the OPEC oil crisis.
While it was true 1974 saw the largest single decline in highway deaths, the effect was only short term, Dr Yowell says.
By the mid-1990s, the US Congress had handed responsibility for setting speed limits back to the states; most reverted to a 65 mph (105 km/h) limit or higher. The state of Montana, which legislated to end daytime car speed limits on freeways, saw fatalities decrease from 215 in 1995 to 200 in 1996. It eventually imposed a 75 mph (120 km/h) speed limit in 1999.
Dr Yowell says three factors independent of speed limits contribute to road safety: crumple zones and better tyres on cars, raising the legal drinking age to 21 years, and increasing the use of seat belts.
These measures, he says, help explain why from 1968 to 1991, the fatality rate per 100 million declined by 63.2 per cent.
His research, The Evolution and Devolution of Speed Limit Law and the Effect on Fatality Rates, is published in Review of Policy Research by Blackwell Publishing.