Faster Speed Limits Blamed for 33,000 Deaths over Two Decades

Many drivers on Chicago roadways today remember a time when the speed limits across the country were much lower than they are now. In the 1970s and 1980s, most states chose to keep their maximum speed limits to 55 miles per hour or under due to the threat of financial penalties from the federal government but that all changed when the National Maximum Speed Limit law was repealed in 1995. Following that move, many states increased their speed limits quickly and by January of 2013, only the nation’s capital had a 55 mph maximum.

Originally, the speed limit law was intended to help conserve gasoline but as an added bonus, officials quickly noted that the number of fatalities on American roadways decreased substantially. At present, approximately 50 percent of all collisions are believed to have excessive speed as a factor, and many of those car accidents produce injuries and/or deaths among the drivers and passengers involved.

By studying data since the repeal of the National Maximum Speed Limit law, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concluded that increased speed limits in the last two decades are the cause of 33,000 traffic deaths in the United States.

The conclusions were based on data from 41 states with nine states and Washington, D.C. intentionally excluded as lacking enough vehicle miles annually to produce accurate results. Though fatalities saw a decline during this time period, those that occurred were reviewed and categorized by their factors that were occurring at the time of a crash, including the number of young driver’s on the road, the unemployment rate, and consumption of alcohol per capita. The fatalities were then compared to the number of deaths that would have been expected had the speed limits not increased, with these numbers coming from pre-repeal data as well as changes in driving habits and factors.

Based on these comparisons, the study concluded that for each five mile per hour increase in a state’s maximum speed limit, the state saw a four percent increase in traffic fatalities across all roads. On interstates and freeways, a five mile per hour increase was linked with an eight percent increase in fatalities.

As debate continues to rage in Chicago and elsewhere in the country about speed limits and the appropriate use of restrictions on driving, this new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is giving some experts pause. What are we, as a state, willing to risk so that we can cut down on the time it takes us to drive? How many lives are too many? The answers to these questions are not clear but they are expected to be debated for some time to come among countless drivers in Illinois.

Speed is a common negligent action on the part of drivers here that leads to a car accident and that can cause legal liability to be imposed on the driver. In Chicago, when one motorist harms another one due to negligence or recklessness, that errant driver may be forced to compensate the victims of the crash for the totality of their damages. If an accident turns fatal and a victim loses her life, it may be the right of the victim’s surviving family members to seek relief, though no amount of compensation can ever be considered adequate in these cases.

Prior Blog Entry:

Contaminated Medical Scopes Caused Infections among Patients, Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, published April 21, 2016.


Speed limit increases cause 33,000 deaths in 20 years, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, published April 12, 2016.the i

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