It's common knowledge that the faster someone drives, the greater the risk of being involved in a devastating crash. We hear the same message repeatedly – slow down – but has anyone truly examined the conditions that encourage speeding? Or the psychology behind the need to speed?
The posted speed limit may be the culprit
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) attributes crashes caused by speeding to the increase in speed limits in many states. In fact, IIHS estimates that nearly 37,000 traffic fatalities within the past 25 years across the United States are linked to higher speed limits. More than a third of those fatalities occurred on interstates and freeways.
The US once had a national speed limit of 55 mph, but all but nine states increased their highway speed limits to 65 mph in 1993. Now there are 41 states with highway speed limits of 70 mph or more. In six states, the speed limit is 80 mph. In Texas, drivers can travel as fast as 85 mph on some roads.
According to Charles Farmer, IIHS vice president for research and statistical services, a 5-mph increase in highway speed limits is linked to an eight percent increase in the traffic fatality rate. Out of the 37,133 traffic deaths in 2017 across the US, Farmer estimates that nearly 2,000 (5 percent) of them could have been prevented if the speed limits never changed.
Why speed reduction saves lives
Speed-related fatalities are attributed primarily to physics. When drivers increase their speed, they need more time and distance to stop or take evasive measures to avoid a crash. In addition, the faster someone drivers, the more damage will be inflicted in a crash.
On a psychological level, research shows that reducing the speed limit encourages drivers to slow down – even drivers who habitually exceed the speed limit. This notion was proven in a 2017 study which scrutinized the habits of Boston drivers before and after the city reduced its speed limit by 5 mph on certain roads. The city saw an overall reduction in how fast drivers traveled in areas where the speed limit had been lowered.
Due to the high posted speed limits, speed-related crashes are a common problem in Texas. According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), there were approximately 27,949 speed-related crashes statewide – resulting in 745 fatalities and 13,514 injuries. In the same year, Henderson County had 121 speed-related crashes that resulted in six fatalities and 58 injuries.