The “speed kills” argument seems to be losing velocity

Pratt on Texas“Speed Kills” says the overused slogan but of course such is not the case. If it were true that much greater speed were a cause of death then folks at some risk of death traveling at 70 miles per hour would all die when flying in a plane at several hundred miles per hour.

Driving a vehicle beyond one’s ability to control it in the conditions of the moment, which includes not just environmental issues but the unpredictable actions of other drivers, is what increases the likelihood of dangerous crashes and losses of control. But it is much easier to use the bromidic expression “speed kills” to justify the posting of speed limits that are often arbitrary, counter to normal traffic flow, and not fitting with the engineering standards of a motorway.

In Texas, we’ve mostly turned the corner on this by making sure on state highways that limits are actually set to match the design of the motorway and driver behavior. In other states such is not the case as I witnessed in western Colorado last week with its New Mexico-style ridiculously low speed limits on large, wide-open highways. In the rural northern part of New York state I was on large long rural highways with 55 mph limits two years ago justified by nothing other than government control of the people and money raising through ticketing.

I’ve no empirical proof but I’d venture that a 65 to 75 mph speed limit in the 70’s is about the equal to an 85 to 95 mph limit today – in relative safety and performance of vehicles.

“Speed-Limit Boosts Show No Signs of Slowing Down,” was the headline of a Wall Street Journal story last week which featured the typical objections to higher speed limits.

In trying to make the case for lower limits saving lives it is pointed out that: “The most convincing evidence is the 55 mph National Maximum Speed Limit set in 1973 [sic? I thought this was set in the Carter years.] Before that, speed limits on rural interstates typically ranged from 65 to 75 mph.” And they note how deaths went down after the lowering.

What they miss is the relative performance and safety of even today’s cheapest cars to even the best of the 1970’s. I’ve no empirical proof but I’d venture that a 65 to 75 mph speed limit in the 70’s is about the equal to an 85 to 95 mph limit today – in relative safety and performance of vehicles.


  1. IIRC the 55 mph speed limit went into effect January 1, 1974, under Nixon, for energy conservation purposes.

    • Pratt on Texas says

      Yes and I think it was the Carter Admin. that upped the leverage for state adoption by threatening state highway money grants if not adopted. Thanks.

  2. The most dangerous things on the road, and I never leave home without seeing all of them, are following too closely (should be self explanatory, but common sense has been dead for more than a generation, clearly), driving too slowly (destroying traffic flow by creating a rolling roadblock that causes those around the speed limit to have to pass them and therefore having everyone over the limit tailgating those who are passing and often cutting off the slower driver and passing on the right… etc, etc, etc… if you spend any time at all on the road you’ve seen it and either already know are are part of the problem) and pulling out in front of other cars as though you are in a hurry, then accelerating slowly and rarely if ever reaching the speed limit when waiting for the other car to pass and pulling out safely would have taken 5 seconds out of your “busy” life. In other words, driving like you’re the only/most important person on the whole road. We’ve already got too many laws and they add a thousand of them on January 1 and September 1 every year. If they would enforce the basic laws and stop micromanaging everyone’s lives we would all be freer and better off. Too many entitled, self-important bullies out there, and they are all very confident and smug in their fancy steel boxes where they are invincible. “Drive Texas Friendly”, y’all!

    • Pratt on Texas says

      Yes, disparity in speed is the most dangerous of all and why we got rid of the stupid, dangerous lower limit for trucks, etc. And yes, for some things there are no “do overs” and we’d all be better off if people truly understood such. In a blink of an eye a life can be ended.

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