Not necessarily. About a year ago, the speed limit on several interstates throughout Virginia jumped from 65 mph to 70 mph and now there are reports about an increased number of accidents in that same time frame. These reports are causing a lot of people to wonder whether there is a connection between higher traffic speed limits and the increased risk of traffic accidents. Common sense leads us to think that as traffic moves faster, both the likelihood of a collision and the severity of the accident should go up as well. But the statistical evidence isn’t so clear, and sometimes, even though it may seem counter-intuitive, raising the speed limit might actually make the roadway safer.
Safety on our roadways involves more than simply the speed limit. Other considerations such as lane width, the pavement type and condition, the terrain, driver behavior, traffic volume, and prevailing traffic speeds all play a role in setting the appropriate speed limit. For interstate safety—which is where the speed limits went up—a primary goal is to keep traffic moving at relatively similar speeds in order to avoid lane changes. Several studies have actually shown that large differences in speed between cars on the road, which leads to increased lane changes, are a major contributor to traffic accidents. Thus, if increasing the speed limit will lead to greater consistency in speed among drivers, then a higher speed limit means a safer road. At the end of the day, faster travel isn’t necessarily more dangerous. But having fast drivers and slow drivers trying to move around each other is. For this reason, many interstates also have minimum speeds posted.
Whether the increased number of accidents in Virginia is a result of increased speed limits, a greater number of drivers on the road, or some other factor isn’t known today. Future studies that the State of Virginia plans to carry out will hopefully clarify those issues.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.