NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Drivers Go Faster in States that Raised Speed Limits

November 26, 2003

In 1995, Congress repealed the nationally mandated 55 mile per hour speed limit (65 on rural Interstates) -- allowing the states more leeway in setting their own limits. Twenty-eight states have raised rural Interstate speed limits to at least 70 miles an hour since 1995. Studies indicate more Americans are driving, driving more miles, and they are driving faster:

  • A survey of six states by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that in states where the speed limit is 65 mph about 1 percent exceeded 80 mph while in those states with speed limit set at 75, about a quarter of drivers regularly went over 80.
  • In Maryland, for example, where the Interstate speed limit is 65 mph, the mean speed was 66 and about 1 percent of drivers exceeded 80.
  • By contrast, in Colorado, where the interstate speed limit is 75, the mean speed was 76 and about a quarter of drivers regularly went over 80.

One consequence of higher speeds is an increase in traffic deaths in addition to more miles driven. A study by the Land Transport Safety Authority of New Zealand of the 22 states that raised their limits to 70 or 75 mph almost immediately after repeal of the federal cap attributes 1,880 additional deaths in those states -- over a three year period -- to the higher limits, compared with trends in 12 states that kept their limits at 65.

However, the authors of the New Zealand study noted that geographical effects might have skewed the results because most of the states that went to 75 were in the West.

Source: Danny Hakim, "Study Links Higher Speed Limits to Deaths," New York Times, November 24, 2003.


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