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Increasing the Speed Limit to 70 MPH Moves Traffic But May Cost Lives

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In Virginia a recent development in automobile speed restrictions has had many concerned as to the safety of those on the road throughout the state. Virginia will likely raise its speed limit on highways and other roads to 70 miles per hour. Currently both the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates have approved the bills to raise the restrictions. The bill passed relatively easily and without controversy, a vote of 71 to 26 in the House and 29 of 11 in the Senate let the bill slide through with ease. The big question now is whether this increase is a smart and safe move for the Commonwealth of Virginia and its motorists.

Proponents of the bill, such as Joseph Bahen, a representative of the NMA (National Motorists Association) stated that “speed limits should be posted at the prevailing speed of traffic” indicating that motorists typically travel faster than the posted speed limit, so raising the limit will not change traffic flow. Indeed many those that travel on our nation’s roads exceed the speed limit on a daily basis, which raising the speed limit would allow them to effectively travel within the legal limit without them having to adjust their normal traveling speed.

Opponents of the bill argue that the increase of the speed limit would increase fuel consumption, necessitate production of new speed limit signs, and further endanger the motorists traveling on the newly raised speed limit highways. The opponents of this change base their arguments on a statistical fact. States that have a higher speed limit, such as the one proposed in Virginia have 15% more traffic fatalities than lower limit states. In addition to more road deaths, fuel consumption will go up with the faster highway speeds, with more than 10% of fuel efficiency lost every 10 miles per hour over the current limit of 55 miles per hour.

Although statistical information for Virginia is not complete enough to make a proper analysis, other states’ traffic data would suggest the Virginia motorist accident count is only going to grow. Although many argue for increased speed limits, it is still yet to be seen what the actual cost will be of trying to get to work sooner.

As a driver who is sometimes impatient, I worry that if the limit is at 70, then some will drive 75 to 80, when they would not dare go more than 20 over the limit as things are now. In the Western United States, the need to cover vast distances might make more of an argument for this speed limit change. On the over crowded highways in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, it is a recipe for disaster.

3 Comments

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  1. up arrow

    The speed limit is going to be raised in the rural areas, so northern Virginia will mostly still be at 65 MPH.

  2. Henry Stowe says:
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    Sorry, but states that raised their speed limits to 70 mph and higher experienced a larger drop in their fatality rates than states keeping 65 mph on their rural interstates. Source: NHTSA FARS data 1994-2003.

    Separately, in the state of Texas and Utah, both experienced no increases in fatalities on affected highway stretches after raising their speed limits to 80 mph.

  3. Mike Bryant says:
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    The death numbers have gone down in Minnesota despite the increase to 70. It all depends on where it was done. They did add barriers to the median which also made a big difference in cross overs.