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Rick Shapiro
Rick Shapiro
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Is It the Increased Interstate Speed Limit or Speed Variation Causing More Injuries or Deaths?

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Recently, Virginia’s new governor proposed increasing speed limits on many Virginia (VA) interstate highways, including I-81, I-64, I-95, and several others. There has been some outcry to this proposed legislation, because some car/truck accident statistics show that increased interstate speeds mean more injuries or deaths. However, a number of particular studies show that there are a number of variables that impact the interstate injury statistics.

Some mistakenly believe that either speed or speed variation is the only contributing factor that increases death rates on the highway. However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (“IIHS”) has compiled a list of FAQs that discusses speed limits and fatal crashes. According to the IIHS, both speed variation and speed are important factors affecting injury and loss of life:

"Although research conducted in the 1950s on two-lane rural roads indicated that vehicles traveling much faster or much slower than average were more likely to be involved in crashes, severe crash involvement increased with speed. The risk of death and severe injury is a direct exponential function of speed, not speed differences. Many differences in travel speeds are unavoidable because of the slower speeds of turning or merging vehicles. Higher speeds of the other vehicles exacerbate this problem. Besides, many crashes, and nearly half of those resulting in occupant deaths, are single-vehicle impacts in which differences among vehicle speeds play no role or only a minor one."

From the IIHS findings, we can conclude that both speed and speed variation add to the death rate from accidents that occur on the highway. While speed variation appears to be a greater contributing factor to the accident/injury rate, increased speed plays a greater role in the severity of injuries from the accident, so consider this next time a car flies by you on I-64. In other words, while a maximum speed limit increase will not increase your chances of a collision on the highway, it will increase the likelihood of adeath/loss of life in the event of an interstate highway collision.

Please remember that highway speed limits vary by state. If new maximum speed limits have been raised by the Virginia *(VA) state legislature, you are still obligated to adhere to the posted speed limit signs, even if they are not up-to-date. The IIHS has posted a table of maximum posted speed limits by state for your reference.