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Time is the most finite of commodities, so it is understandable when we try and find ways to save it, but an approach at play in various state capitals carries with it a price tag that will be measured in people's lives.
Across the nation right now, legislation is being proposed to raise speed limits; in some states, the limits have already been increased. Speed limit changes have been introduced in Arkansas, Iowa, North Dakota, and they've been approved in Michigan, South Dakota and Kentucky,all with intent of letting motorists get where they are going faster.
The National Safety Council favors change to increase efficiency for drivers; as a sponsor of Infrastructure Week 2017, we support upgrades to roads, bridges, rail, ports and airports that prioritize and improve safety. But raising speed limits means raising risk, moving us in the wrong direction. Just last week, NSC provided testimony to Illinois state legislators regarding a bill proposing higher speed limits. We told the audience that in 2015, some 37% of Illinois crashes involved speeding or driving too fast for conditions, with nearly 400 people dying in those incidents.
A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that, in the wake of speed limit increases over two decades, an additional 33,000 lives were lost on U.S. roadways. IIHS projected that, in 2013 alone, raising the limits resulted in an additional 1,900 fatalities.
In proposing the increases in the speed limit, supporters cite various arguments, including "people are driving this fast anyway," "roads and cars have gotten safer," and "going faster saves us time and money." But I think legislators need to consider one additional argument: More people will die.
Raising speed limits – allowing and to some extent even encouraging people to drive faster than they are now – will make the nation's highways more dangerous, with injuries and deaths to climb.
The cause-and-effect behind this is simple: the faster a car is going, the less time a driver has to react to unexpected circumstances, the more difficult it is to smoothly correct the car's path, and the greater the impact if and when the car hits something. Further, higher speed can exacerbate other roadway issues such as distracted driving, impaired driving and crashes when unrestrained.
While going faster might save motorists a few minutes in the short run, there is another side to the risk-reward equation. So when it comes to changing speed limits, I hope those considering how to vote on this time-saving legislation take a minute or two to consider one last question:
How many thousands of people need to give up the rest of their lives to save everyone else a few minutes?
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