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Does Speeding Still Kill?

By Brian Kumnick | Last updated on

The Debate On Speed Limits and Enforcement Continues.

Fourteen years after states were allowed to begin increasing their highway speed limits from 55 MPH, debate continues about what, if anything, should be done to curb the number of speeding-related traffic fatalities. An academic study and an advocacy group's report out this week highlight some advocates' concerns.

A study by researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago, to be published in the American Journal of Public Health, has found that since the 1995 repeal of federally-mandated 55 MPH speed limits, there has been "a 3.2% increase in road fatalities attributable to the raised speed limits on all road types in the United States." Rural and urban interstates have seen particularly large increases in fatalities, at 9.1% and 4.0% respectively. The researchers recommend a return to nationwide 55 MPH speed limits in order to save lives.

Also lobbying for increased traffic enforcement is New York City group Transportation Alternatives, which just issued a report entitled "Executive Order: A Mayoral Strategy for Traffic Safety."
Transportation Alternatives says that, while New York tries to remain at the forefront of traffic safety, it has a long way to go to properly deter dangerous driving behavior. Chief among the complaints: a basic lack of enforcement of speed limits. The report claims that daily speeding in New York City would earn you a ticket just once every 35 years.

The Transportation Alternatives report calls for a comprehensive bureaucratic rearrangement to eliminate the gaps and loopholes that it claims hamper efforts to reduce road fatalities. It also suggests more diligent traffic enforcement, including the implementation of a speed-camera program.

Not everyone accepts this logic at face value, though. Reaction to the University of Illinois study, for instance, includes claims that the study actually showed that states that raised speed limits from 55 to 65 MPH showed a decline in fatalities. And New York officials told the New York Times that traffic-related fatalities there are at their lowest levels ever. Whether there is room for improvement in either case, and whether increased enforcement -- ever-unpopular with the public -- will bring sufficient benefits, appears to remain an open question, ensuring that the speed debate is not going away any time soon.

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