Illinois study: U.S. speed limits directly impact deaths by William Atkins Tuesday, 21 July 2009 Page 1 of 2
In 1995, the maximum speed limit on interstate highways in the United States was changed from 55 miles per hour (mph) nationwide to a state-regulated system (that resulted in many speeds of 65 mph or above). A research study concludes that the change directly caused an extra 12,500 deaths over the next ten years on U.S. interstates.
The study performed by researchers at the School of Public Health of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is to be published in the September 2009 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
According to the July 16, 2009 UIC press release Higher Speed Limits Cost Lives, “It is the first long-term study to evaluate the impact of repealing the National Maximum Speed Law on road fatalities and injuries in fatal crashes between 1995 and 2005.”
The authors of the study are Lee Friedman (assistant research professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at UIC and lead author of the study), Donald Hedeker (UIC School of Public Health), and Elihu Richter, (Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel).
In 1974, the maximum speed limit on U.S. interstate highways was restricted to 55 miles (88.5 kilometers) per hour. It was primarily instituted as a consequence of the oil embargo.
The oil crisis began on October 17, 1973, when nations comprising OAPEC (Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) declared an oil embargo based on the decision by the United States to supply the military of Israel during the Yom Kippur war.
OAPEC consists of OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) plus the countries of Egypt and Syria. OPEC consists of the countries of Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.
In the first year that the new speed law was enacted, according to the Illinois researchers, there was a 17% reduction in the number of deaths on interstate roads in the United States. However, the law was modified in 1987 to allow states to raise the speed limit on some U.S. interstates to 65 miles per hour.
Illinois study: U.S. speed limits directly impact deaths by William Atkins Tuesday, 21 July 2009 Page 2 of 2
Then, in 1995, the 1974 law was repealed and all fifty U.S. states were allowed to set their own speed limits on interstate highways that exist within their state boundaries. Consequently, the speed limits were raised to speeds much higher than 55 miles per hour.
For instance, in 2009, many interstate highways in Illinois is 65 miles per hour, and on Michigan interstates the maximum interstate speed is 70 miles per hour.
Dr. Friedman and his team concluded in their study that: "The primary finding of our study was that over the 10-year period following the repeal of National Maximum Speed Law, there were approximately 12,500 deaths due to the increased speed limits across the U.S.” [UIC press release]
Within the UIC press release, it notes: “The researchers suggest that policy makers reevaluate national policy on speed and road safety and consider reduced speed limits and improved enforcement with speed camera networks to save lives.”
And, the article adds, “Speed camera programs have been implemented in England, France and Australia and have shown immediate reductions in motor vehicle crash fatalities, said Friedman.”
Dr. Friedman states, "This is a failed policy because it was, in essence, an experiment over 10 years. People assumed that increasing the speed limit would not have an impact. We've shown that something has happened and it's quite dramatic."
The UIC article concludes with a comparison of these 12,500 deaths and the people that died on September 11th. He states, "That tragic event has led to a whole foreign policy. We estimate that approximately 12,500 people died as a result of a policy to deregulate speed enforcement -- four times what happened on September 11th -- and yet changing the policy to reduce speed limits may be very difficult."