NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Motorists Speed More, But Fewer Die

January 7, 2000

Statistically, your likelihood of being killed in an accident continues to decline. According to figures from the national Highway Traffic Safety Administration dating from 1966 to 1998, Americans are driving more but fewer motorists are dying in accidents.

  • The national crash fatality rate, determined by the number of fatalities for every 100 million vehicle miles driven, has fallen by 11 percent since the United States lifted the national 55-mph speed limit in 1995.
  • In 1966, American motorists drove 926 billion miles, tallied 50,894 fatalities and established a fatality rate (the number of deaths divided by the number of miles driven) of 5.6.
  • By 1998, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the figures had changed to 2,619 trillion miles driven, 41,471 deaths and a fatality rate of just 1.6 percent.

Why the dramatic drop? Experts say it is due to better engineered roadways and better and safer cars.

Monica Worth of the American Traffic Safety Association says a number of road improvements have led to a decrease in deaths. These include: removal of trees and other obstacles from near the freeways, improved lighting rumble strips, wider shoulders, high-visibility signs and breakaway light posts.

Interestingly, the average speed on state roadways nationwide rose only 1 percent after the speed limit was raised from 55 mph. "It means that people were always driving 70 mph," said Gary Naeyaert, director of communications for the Michigan Department of Transportation. "The reality is that speed does not kill," Naeyaert said.

Source: Tom Greenwood, "Motorists Speed More, But Fewer Die. Better Roads, Safer Cars Cited For The Drop In Fatalities In Michigan And The Nation," Detroit News, January 4, 2000.


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