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IIHS study links road death surge with higher speed limits

New Mexico is one of 41 states that has increased speed limits since the 55 mph nationwide maximum speed was abolished in 1993. Drivers in the state can now travel at 75 mph on highways without worrying about a ticket, but increased speeds mean increased dangers. After studying traffic fatalities between 1993 and 2017, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concluded that road deaths rise by 8.5% for every 5 mph increase in speed limits.

The nonprofit road safety group's study suggests that 36,760 people who have died on the nation's roads since the abolition of the 55 mph nationwide speed limit would still be alive today if the maximum had remained in place. IIHS researchers determined this figure after allowing for factors including seat belt use, unemployment and the number of young drivers on the roads. Experts say the speed-related death toll would be even higher if innovative safety features such as automatic emergency braking systems had not been introduced in recent years.

Lawmakers justify raising speed limits by pointing out that drivers are more economically productive when they reach their destinations sooner, but safety groups say these benefits are minor and do not justify the increased dangers. Raising the speed limit by 5 mph increases road deaths by almost 10% according to the study, but it shaves less than seven minutes off a 100-mile journey.

Many modern vehicles are equipped with black box-type devices that keep track of data such as vehicle speeds. A personal injury attorney could seek to obtain this information when representing a car accident victim injured by a motorist who was driving recklessly fast. Legal counsel may also check police reports and surveillance camera footage for information that could be used to establish negligence and liability in a motor vehicle accident lawsuit.

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