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Should We Raise the Speed Limit?

I recently read an article titled, “Roads are Better. Cars are Safer. Let’s Raise the Speed Limit” written by Stephen Boyles, an Assistant Professor of Transportation Engineering at the University of Texas. In this article, he discusses that not only do our current speed limits not increase safety; they actually make things worse.

According to Boyles:

“Artificially low speed limits actually make roads less safe.”

“Research shows that the speed limit has little effect on how fast people drive. Traffic engineers have tried all kinds of tricks — flashing lights, pink signs, cute speed limits such as 48 instead of 50 — and they all work only for a week or two until the novelty wears off.”

“While many drivers ignore speed limits altogether, others do try to follow them out of a sense of safety or obedience.”

“This difference in speeds is actually more dangerous than if everyone were driving at a faster speed. We’ve all felt the frustration of being behind slow drivers and annoyance at aggressive drivers weaving through traffic. Both of these situations are dangerous and make traffic worse.”

He discusses a stretch of roadway in Texas (Highway 130) which has a speed limit of 85 m.p.h. He implies that this speed limit works because modern roads, as well as modern cars, are engineered for this kind of driving. He believes that “speed limits should be set at the 85th percentile of traffic speed. That is, only about 1 out of 7 cars should be driving faster than the speed limit. Any more than that and the speed limit should be raised.”

He argues that a reasonable speed limit would make people respect the law more. “Speeding should be seen as a serious matter, not a routine offense most of us commit every day.”

We’ve probably all seen this, cruising down the interstate with the flow of traffic and coming quickly upon someone who is going exactly 65 m.p.h. It’s dangerous because you have to rapidly slow down and/or swerve around them and this increases the potential for rear end and other types of collisions.

Professor Boyles raises interesting points – speed limits were set at a time when cars were slower and much less safe. Shouldn’t we raise speed limits to keep up with technology? Isn’t this especially true when the vast majority of motorists, according to Boyle, are exceeding the speed limit anyway? Can we not trust motorists to drive at a safe speed without an artificially low speed limit?

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