Traffic fatalities are down during the past 15 years, but speed-related deaths are up slightly. These numbers may seem inconsistent, but perspective from both sides of the highway speed limits issue lends some understanding.
Highway safety advocates got together about seven years ago to devise a plan to attack speeding and lower the injury and death rates from high-speed crashes. In the ensuing time, seven states raised their speed limits while only two increased speeding fines, according to USA Today.
The progress made in attempting to cut down on speeding in the United States has stalled, as other issues like distracted driving have taken a more prominent role among activists.
Progress has been made in other safety-related areas. There has been a 23 percent drop in deaths related to the non-use of seat belts since 2000. Drunk-driving related deaths have dropped about 3 percent in that same time period.
In fact, highway deaths were down about 3 percent in 2010 from 2009, even as the number of miles driven ticked up almost 1 percent. But speed-related deaths have gone up about 7 percent since 2000.
The fatality rate on American highways fell in 2010 to the lowest point since the government started tracking the data in the 1940s. The rate is calculated as deaths per 100 million miles driven. In 2010, the number dropped to 1.09 from 1.13 the year before.
“Last year’s drop in traffic fatalities is welcome news, and it proves that we can make a difference,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Still, too many of our friends and neighbors are killed in preventable roadway tragedies every day. We will continue doing everything possible to make cars safer, increase seat belt use, put a stop to drunk driving and distracted driving and encourage drivers to put safety first.”
By failing to mention speeding as a major factor in highway fatalities, LaHood underscores the frustration advocates face in trying to draw attention to the issue.
Groups that advocated for raising the speed limit in 1995 point to statistics showing that overall deaths have fallen dramatically since the federal government repealed the limit.
“The bottom line is that the roads have never been safer,” said John Bowman with the National Motorists Association, which lobbied for the repeal of the national speed limit. “Traffic fatality rates have been steadily dropping since 1995…They’ve been steadily decreasing, and that’s with higher speed.”
Speed limits should be set by state highway engineers and local public works directors, Bowman said. He also noted that aggressive driving should be more of a focus than simply speeding.