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Should States Raise Speed Limits Essay


Speed limits are often set by laws and statutes so as to inform “motorists of the highest speed that is considered to be safe and reasonable under favorable road, traffic, and whether conditions” (The Association of British Drivers, 2005). Most states in the United States still have speed limits that are set at 55 to 65 miles per hour.

The vehicle and speed legislation of the United States indicates that the speed limit was established so as to improve public safety. Some states have since revised their speed limits to higher speed limits. Most countries in Europe and Asia have speed limits of up to 85 miles per hour (Feigenbaum, 2011). This paper will argue why states need to raise their speed limits from the current 55 miles per hour.

Speed limits in the United States were higher than the current levels prior to the political oil crisis that was witnessed in 1973. Following the events of that year, the federal instituted established a speed limit of 55 miles per hour. States were required to implement this speed limit by 1988 or lose federal transportation funding (National motorist association, 1999).

In the year 1995, the national speed limit was repealed and thus each state was allowed to establish its own speed limit. Many states still have speed limits that are lower than the 1pre 973 level.

Safety concern

The current speed limits set by states are mostly established as a safety measure. Each state in the U.S. has a basic speed statute that requires drivers to drive their vehicles at speed limit that is reasonable and cautious as per the existing conditions (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1998). The laws take into account that safety varies depends on the traffic, the road and whether and other conditions that may come into play.

Several researches that have been carried out in regard to speed limit show that most motorists choose a speed limit with which they can reach their destination in the shortest time possible and one with which they will avoid endangering themselves, other people and properties (Feigenbaum, 2011).

Most of these motorists often select a speed that takes into account the nature of the roadway, traffic and other conditions. The combined judgment of “motorists can be taken to represent the level of reasonable travel and acceptable risk” (Feigenbaum, 2011, pp. 5). Research has shown that, in most cases, the upper region of the risk that can be accepted is in the region of 85th percentile speed.

A study was conducted to examine the data from 1995, the last year of a common low speed limit for all states, to 1997 when some states had implemented a raised speed limit for a full year (National motorist association, 1999). Comparing the data of the group that had raised their speed limits to those of unchanged speed limits, it was demonstrated that there was no significance difference in the fatality rates.

Fatality rates had dropped in the two groups by a similar margin. This shows that by changing the speed limit the overall safety was not compromised (Feigenbaum, 2011). In order to establish the safety that is associated with different types of roads and traffic, the study included all roads that’s can be considered to be less safe to the safer and faster freeways.

This study and others indicate that raising the speed limit to 85th percentile speed does not compromise safety on the roads.

Opponents of raising the speed limit have always argued that it results into increased number of accidents. Researches have actually confirmed the opposite. Available data shows that accidents reduce when the speed limit are increased. Part of the reason for this finding is that when a lower speed limit is set there will be drivers who will be obeying the speed limit and others who will be exceeding the set limit (Feigenbaum, 2011). The gaps between this two motorists increase the chances of accidents.

Skeptics are often concerned with the increased number of pedestrians, especially in the rural interstates. They do not take into account the consideration that most rural roads have been fitted with safety and technology features that increases safety. However, the this argument is not completely opposed to the idea of low speed limits in circumstances such as high traffic, dense population and adverse weather conditions, as such conditions my compromise the safety.

Economic effects of raising speed limit

There are several economic effects that can be realized by raising the motorway speed in the United States. The most remarkable benefit that can be achieved following an increase in the maximum speed limit would be the value of the time saved (Feigenbaum, 2011). Studies have shown that if the maximum speed limit is increased to about 85th percentile speed then millions of vehicle hours will be saved per year, especially for cars and light goods vehicles. This would save up to 1 billion dollars annually as per year 2000 prices.

Another economic benefit can be determined when time wasted on the road is put into consideration. People waste a lot of time on the road travelling from point A to point B. The delays extend to goods and other services that have a direct relationship with road transport. Unnecessary delays on the road will cause delays in the accomplishment of tasks such as late arrival for appointments; late delivery of vital goods that may be required to accomplish different tasks that may be vital for economic growth.

If all this factors are put in place then one will realize that low speed limits are not necessary. States that have not adopted higher speed limits should make efforts to ensure that higher speed limits, for instance 85th percentile speed should be adopted, especially for roads that have less traffic.

Critics have stated that increasing the speed limits has no any economic importance, citing the higher amount of fuel that is used for higher speeds. Studies have shown that vehicles use the list amount of gas when they are travelling at speeds of between 55 – 60 miles per hour (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1998).

The difference between 55 miles per hour and the recommended higher speeds is between 15 – 20 miles per hour. Research has also shown that when the national 55 miles per hour speed level that was in place between 1978 and 1995, only reduced fuel consumption by one percent.

If states increase their speeds by lets say 5 miles per hour then their will be an additional 0.3% increase in fuel or gasoline use. This figure is negligible considering the economic opportunities that are lost by the unnecessary delays on the roads (The Association of British Drivers, 2005).

Some critics have also pointed towards the unprecedented increase in vehicle operating costs due to increased mechanical problems.

The consensus is that an increase in the maximum speed limit would lead to a significant benefit to the economy as the value of the time saved will be much more than the operational costs, even during the times when fuel costs are high (Feigenbaum, 2011). The tax levied will simply be transferred from one part of the economy to another. Furthermore, an increase in fuel usage will ensure more income from fuel tax.

“If the speed is increased, individual drivers will have to decide whether to take advantage of it, depending on the value they place on their time versus the increased costs they are likely to face” (Feigenbaum, 2011). Therefore motorists who think that they waste so much time in the traffic will likely take advantage of the situation. Thus people will have a wider variety of options on how they can manage their time and the costs incurred through motoring.

Reduction of speed trap revenues and corruption

It’s alleged that states and cities that have refused to adjust their speed limits often set speed traps as a vital source of revenue. This usually forces motorists to drive at speeds that are set below normal safe traffic flow speeds (Feigenbaum, 2011).

Such motorist may be tempted to drive faster because they may be convinced that they will not endanger anyone by doing that. States that unfairly set speed limits below normal safe traffic flow speeds have tended to make revenues out of the fines charged from drivers who are driving at scientifically proven safe speeds (Feigenbaum, 2011).

Setting speed limits may also encourage corruption as policemen are likely to take bribes from motorists who are caught driving faster than the set speed limit in a given state or city. This may be especially true for drivers who may not want to waste time by going to police stations, cells or courts to answer over speeding charges.

Furthermore, a state that sets the speed limit below the normal safe limit may be experience unusually high number of traffic offences that involve over speeding or driving above the set speed limits. This may mean that so many people waste their valuable time going to police cells and courts for traffic offences. Such motorists may fail to accomplish other important activities and this may be economically damaging for them.

If the value of the time wasted by motorists following arrests is quantified for a given state, then one can realize the damage being caused to the economy. What is more hurting is the fact that the speed limit most of the drivers are arrested for has been proven to be safe and is being applied elsewhere within the United States (Feigenbaum, 2011).

Critics may argue that corruption as a vice is widespread all public sectors and thus should no be blamed on low speed limits or should not be limited to the traffic police officers. In regard to the police arrests, they may argue that drivers who are over speed are breaking the law and endangering the lives of other road users. Although it’s not right to break law, authorities should not set unfairly law speed limits that get motorists on the wrong side of the law.

Effects on environment

Critics have always stated that increasing speed limit creates a number of effects on the environment. First, they claim that this will worsen the effect air quality by a considerable percentage. Air quality agencies have set objectives for each pollutant depending on the desired standards of air quality (The Association of British Drivers, 2005). By increasing speed limits by about 15 to 20 miles per hour, the air quality strategy will still be on course to achieve the set objectives (The Association of British Drivers, 2005).

The effects of raising the motorway speed limit on the emission of pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, would be insignificant (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1998). Critics have also claimed that increasing speed limit may increase greenhouse gas emissions (Feigenbaum, 2011).

Several agencies have rejected the theory that man made carbon dioxide emissions may be responsible for climate change. Many researches provide indisputable evidences that changes in the climate can be explained (in the majority of cases) by changes of the sun activity.


This paper sought to argue for the point that it’s necessary for all states in the U. S to increase their speed limits. Indeed the paper has identified several points that support the argument. For instance, higher speeds such as 75 miles per hour have been found to be much safer than lower speed limits.

Secondly, there are many ways through which the economy will benefit if the speed limits are to be raised in all the states. Most of points that have been advanced by critics to stop the speed limit adjustment are baseless. States can be compelled to implement higher speed limits but there is one major challenge of changing the public perception that the faster the speed the more dangerous it is.


Feigenbaum, B. (2011). Can’t Drive 55? Call to Increase Speed Limits in U.S. Web.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (1998). The effects of Speed Limits in the Post-NMSL Era. Washington D.C: U. S. Department of Transportation.

National motorist association. (1999). . Web.

The Association of British Drivers. (2005). Submission for the Raising of the Motorway Speed Limit. Web.

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