Higher speed limit will cause more crashes, some fear

By Rick Rouan

Columbus Dispatch


State legislators say they raised the speed limit to 70 mph from 65 mph in response to Ohioans’ pleas for swifter speeds and because newer, wider highways better handle fast cars.

But critics say research is clear that driving faster leads to more crashes, even on highway stretches with little traffic congestion. Speed limits will hold at 65 mph on urban beltways and 55 mph on congested urban interstates.

“When speed limits go up, people go faster, and eventually that results in more crashes and more deaths,” said Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“We think there’s a pretty predictable safety trade-off.”

The Ohio Turnpike provides a peek at what could come. The speed limit increased to 70 mph on the 241-mile toll road in April 2011. Since then, the number of crashes on the turnpike each month has risen to about 214, compared with 184 during the two years before the change.

The number of fatal crashes hasn’t changed, although the number of injury crashes increased to 39 a month, from about 34.

The State Highway Patrol monitors those statistics and did not oppose the increase on rural highways. Law-enforcement officials did have concerns about raising the speed limit on urban interstates.

State Sen. Gayle Manning, a North Ridgeville Republican who heads the Senate Transportation Committee, said that’s why legislators did not raise the speed limit on urban interstates.

National studies also have linked higher speeds and increased crashes. A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that fatal crashes increased nearly 16 percent on rural interstates that raised the speed limit to 65 mph after the 55 mph national limit was repealed in 1995.

In 2006, the Transportation Research Board found that increasing the speed limit to 65 from 55 increased the probability of a fatal crash by 24 percent, and that bumping the speed limit to 75 from 65 increased the likelihood by 12 percent.

Manning said wider roads today give drivers room to move over if they want to drive slower.

Ohio is the 34th state to raise its rural interstate speed limit to 70 or higher. This won’t be the first time Ohioans could legally drive north of 65 mph. Between 1963 and 1974, the speed limit for cars was 70 mph.

In 1974, the federal government cut the speed limit nationwide to 55 mph to lower fuel consumption.

‘Time is money ‘” people are trying to get to work faster,’ Manning said. ‘Businesses are trying to get supplies to places faster.’

Driving 10 miles at 65 mph takes 9 minutes, 14 seconds. Driving it at 70 mph saves 40 seconds.

Legislators tacked the increase on to the state’s transportation budget bill, which passed last week. A stand-alone bill that would have upped the limit more than a year ago died.

The transportation budget bill still needs Gov. John Kasich’s signature, and the new speed limit would take effect 90 days after he signs it. By then, the Ohio Department of Transportation will have to replace thousands of speed-limit signs, said spokesman Steve Faulkner.

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