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The Commonwealth of Virginia is set to increase the speed limit to 70 mph for certain sections of its highways on July 1st, 2010. Up until now, Virginia has generally followed the pre-1995 federal guidelines for maximum speed limits of 65 mph on interstate highways and 55 mph on urban interstates. What does this 5-15 mph increase actually mean to drivers?

Despite the advantage of faster transportation, many argue that the speed increase is a safety hazard and should not take effect. Critics of the legislation believe that higher speed limits will lead to more fatalities and make the roads more dangerous for drivers. Others speculate that the bill will result in more reckless driving arrests. With these concerns in mind, a debate has developed around the major cause of collisions: increased speed or speed variance. Speed variance is the distribution of speeds of motor vehicles traveling on the same road. We have all come across this problem on the road when slow traffic clogs up the passing lane or speeding drivers impatiently pass on the right.

Research based on data from the Virginia Transportation Research Council, VDOT Traffic Engineering Division, Virginia State Police, and Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has shown the following:

· Crash risk does not necessarily increase with an increase in speed, but is likely to increase with an increase in speed variance;

· Speed variance increases when the speed limit is set substantially below the design speed;

· And, higher speeds can increase the severity of an accident.

Please note that these findings applied to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and in other areas of the country, studies have found an increase in fatalities after increasing speed limits. While research shows that faster travel does not necessarily increase the risk of being involved in a crash, there is a direct relationship between speed variance, or distribution of speeds, and the frequency of collisions.

If motor vehicles all travel in the same direction at the same speed, the risk of collision does not increase. In fact, over the past decade, fatality rates have decreased overall after speed limits were increased. However, if the speed is increased, the severity of the accident is also increased. What this means is that a speed limit increase might not change the likelihood of an accident, but it will increase the severity of injuries sustained if you are involved in an accident.

About the Editors: Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm (VA-NC law offices ) edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service to consumers.

2 Comments

  1. The problem usually is that the medium speed then rises to 80 or 85. It will be important to watch what leeway the patrols give when it goes up.

  2. Gravatar for Tim

    In my opinion. Higher speed limit does not affect the amount of accidents and casualties on freeways. If you look at Southern California (San Diego-LA) area. Most vehicle travel at roughly 80-90 mph. There is less fatalities on the roads.

    I believe that accidents within VA highway structure, are foremost reflection of DMVs teachings and requirements for its student drivers. For example: People who live next to Nations Capital, are not required to parallel park. The city has plenty of street parking. In my opinion every one should know how to and be require to parallel park during DMV examination, prior to getting their license.

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