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Car Wreck Lawyers of 1-800-CarWreck® Examine Speed Limits and Their Effect On Car Accidents

Texas Accident Attorneys of 1-800-CarWreck® analyze speed limits in Texas and other states and how they affect rate of car accidents

1-800-CarWreck is reporting on the link between speed limits, speeding and the number of car accidents.

For years, Texas has led the nation in the total number of car wrecks, and auto safety experts believe that one of the reasons is that the state has a high speed limit, which may encourage a mindset of driving at an unsafe speed among motorists.

And the truth is, speeding is one of the leading causes of car wrecks throughout the country, simply because most drivers cannot control a vehicle that is moving at a high rate of speed, which often leads to actions that compound the problem.

To understand the relationship between speed limits and accidents, it is important to first take a look back at the development of speed limits and their original intent.

Speed Limit History

According to the American Safety Council, the state of Connecticut passed the first speed limit law in 1901, which made it illegal to drive faster than 12 miles per hour in the city, and 15 mph on country roads.

And though other states followed with their own speed limits, the government did not institute a national speed limit law until the 1970s.

Until then, states had complete jurisdiction over speed limit laws, and speed limits in those days ranged from 40 mph to 80 mph.

This created confusion for interstate motorists who had to conform to faster or slower speed limits depending on what state they were visiting.

But in 1974, President Richard Nixon signed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act, which included the National Maximum Speed Law (NMSL) that set the national speed limit at 55 mph.

The irony is that the impetus for the NMSL was less about safety and more about saving fuel, because the U.S. was in the midst of an energy crisis at that time, and studies had determined that driving 55 mph or under would conserve the most fuel.

Although car wreck fatalities decreased by the thousands in the years following enactment of the NMSL, many states and many drivers disregarded the law, arguing that the government had been too intrusive in implementing a law that should have been left up to each state.

In 1995, Congress responded to many opponents of the law and repealed the NMSL by passing the National Highway System Designation Act, which reinstated the power to set speed limits to each state.

Statistical Link Between Speed Limit and Car Accident Fatalities

The real question after the repeal of the NMSL was how the differing speed limits in the U.S. would affect the rate of car accidents.

“While the national speed limit of 55 miles per hour may have seemed too slow for many motorists, the most important aspect of that law to me was the positive psychological effect it had on making drivers aware of not going too fast,” stated car wreck lawyer Amy Witherite, partner at Witherite Law Group, a personal injury law firm with offices in cities such as Dallas, Fort Worth, Tyler, Lubbock and Austin. “I’m not saying that people didn’t violate or disregard the 55 miles per hour limit, but I am saying that it did create a mindset that I believe helped lower driving speed and lower accidents due to speeding.”

Research conducted by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) supports Witherite’s comment.

According to IIHS, there have been an estimated 33,000 car wreck fatalities in the U.S. since the repeal of the NMSL.

A study the IIHS conducted in eight major cities (Albuquerque, Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, Omaha, Tampa, and Washington) found that the average rate of speed among motorists routinely exceeded the speed limit in half these states.

In Albuquerque, 38 percent of the drivers surveyed exceeded 70 mph on highways, and 49 percent of drivers in Tampa exceeded 75 mph on suburban and rural interstates.

Not surprisingly, drivers in Los Angeles exceeded the speed limit more than any other city surveyed.

A staggering 86 percent of drivers in Los Angeles routinely drove faster than 70 mph, 35 percent drove faster than 80 mph, and 10 percent drove faster than 85 mph.

More troubling, the average driver drove at 78 mph, which was the highest number the IIHS had recorded in the history of its speed limit surveys.

“During the 1990s, opponents of the national maximum speed limit argued that since drivers were already exceeding posted limits, states should be able to set limits to match then-current travel speeds,” stated Anne McCartt, Senior Vice President for Research at IIHS. “The result was faster travel and more highway deaths.”

And as Witherite pointed out, high speed limits may encourage motorists to not only push the edge of that limit, but to exceed it.

In other words, a speed limit of 70 mph may mean that drivers will actually go faster than that speed, hitting 75 mph or 80 mph.

“You really have to build in five or ten additional miles per hour when you have a speed limit,” Witherite added. “It’s just not realistic to believe that drivers will stay under or at the speed limit, especially on highways. So when you had a 55 miles per hour limit, you could probably count on drivers traveling at about 60 miles per hour or 65 miles per hour, which is still reasonable. But once the government left it up to the states, 70 miles per hour and 75 miles per hour are permitted on some highways, so just imagine how fast drivers will actually go. It’s a recipe for more speeding accidents and more fatalities.”

Effects of High Speed Limit In Texas

Texas is a state with some of the highest speed limits in the country, but other states also have high speed limits, which is likely the result of a culture that places a premium on getting to destinations in as short a time as possible.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the law has established the maximum highway speed limit in Texas at 70 mph, but the Texas Transportation Commission is allowed to set a speed limit of 75 mph, 80 mph or 85 mph, if a highway engineering study finds that this is a safe and reasonable speed, and if the highway is built to accommodate that speed.

These speed limits only apply to highways, because TxDOT only has jurisdiction over the highway system. Local governments determine speed limits on city streets and county roads.

Texas is also home to a stretch of highway that has an 85 mph speed limit, the highest speed limit in the U.S.

The record-breaking stretch of road runs on SH 130, which spans 41 miles from IH 35 in Williamson County to US 183 in Travis County.

Texas also has an 80 mph speed limit on a stretch of road that runs on SH 45 S, which spans 9.2 miles from US 183 to IH 35 in Travis County.

The speed limit gained the attention of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to highway safety.

“Speeding is a big issue where we are not making progress,” stated GHSA spokesman Jonathan Adkins.

In addition, Texas also allows vehicles on rural freeways to travel at a maximum speed of 85 mph.

The reason for this high speed limit is that rural freeways often have little traffic and are built in sparsely populated areas, which lowers the risk of a car wreck.

But those facts did not prevent the first recorded fatal car wreck on SH 130 on November 11, 2012, when the driver of a Honda Civic died after crashing into a Chevy Tahoe in the southbound lane.

Martha Melinda Harris, 60, a resident of Lockhart, TX was killed in the car wreck, and the driver and passenger in the Tahoe – whose names were not disclosed – suffered minor injuries.

In 2015, there were 16,754 total car wrecks caused by unsafe speed, according to TxDOT, and 290 people died in those accidents.

It’s impossible to determine how many of those accidents were influenced by the higher speed limits in Texas, but the fact is that anytime a speed limit is raised, drivers tend to respond by going five to 10 mph over that limit, which becomes a habit.

Charles Framer, Vice President for Research and Statistical Services at IIHS framed the debate in stark terms.

“Since 2013, speeds have only become more extreme, and the trend shows no sign of abating,” Farmer stated. “We hope state lawmakers will keep in mind the deadly consequences of higher speeds when they consider raising limits.”

Recovering From a Car Accident

There is no such thing as a “minor” car accident, because even a non-fatal accident, no matter how minor, can have lasting physical and psychological ramifications. That’s why it’s so important for victims of car wrecks to hire a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after a car accident to protect their rights.

Call 1-800-CarWreck®

If you have suffered injuries in a car accident and you need legal assistance, please call 1-800-CarWreck® and speak to one of the accident attorneys at Witherite Law Group. We have spent many years helping car wreck victims obtain justice and receive fair and reasonable compensation for their pain and suffering. We believe that a car accident is a life-changing event, and we want to do everything in our power to restore your peace of mind. Call us today or fill out this form, and a member of our firm will contact you for a free consultation.