Speed limits and the Route 3 story

There is a bit of confusion. The ‘speed kills’ bunch and the anti-gadget distracted driving kills bunch overlap a lot and they swing back and forth about what to do to control driver behavior. Alex Tabarrok takes a look at the situation with Route 3 in Be Safe, Break the Law.

The 55 mph speed limit was a vain attempt by the Federal government to reduce gasoline consumption; initially passed in the 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act the law was relaxed in 1987 and finally repealed in 1995 allowing states to choose their speed limits. Highways and cars are safer today than in the 1970s and on many highways speed limits were increased to 65 mph.

What is on the table here is the well known fact that people tend to drive at a safe speed on the highways. The MUTCD Millennium Edition with incorporated Revision Number 1 changes, dated December 28, 2001 – FHWA MUTCD codifies this and suggests that speed limits be set so that 80% or so of drivers are driving at or below posted speed limits. The speed safety issue is also visible in reports such as Nevada Traffic Crashes.

The comments to Alex’s post show just how pernicious the highway speed safety misperceptions can be. There appears to be a significant emotional investment in the ‘speed kills’ theme. If speed did cause crashes, the freeways out in the open spaces would be very very dangerous places to drive, but that isn’t the case.

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