Let’s Increase the Speed Limit!
Imagine an America in which the speed limits on the highways are even higher, maybe something comparable to the German Autobahn. As that concept may seem concerning to some, it should not be. Although it may seem counterintuitive, through intense research, the conclusion can be drawn that increasing the speed limit does not increase the crash rate. There are actually numerous possible positive effects that could result from an increase of the speed limit.
It is important to have a strong understanding of the characteristics of a highway before considering increasing the speed limit on them across the nation. In America, we have interstate highways and other arterials. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation in their article “Road Function Classifications,” the interstate system is made up of arterial roads that “provide the highest level of mobility and the highest speeds over the longest interrupted distance.” Interstate highways pass through several states. An example of an interstate highway is I-95 which begins near the Canadian border in Maine and ends in Miami Florida. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation in their article “Road Function Classifications,” the category of other arterials “include freeways, multilane highways, and other important roadways that supplement the interstate system,” and connect busy areas like cities and industrialized areas. An example of these arterials is NJ- Route 55. The interstate system and other arterial roads fit in the category of roads in which the speed limits should be increased.
Next, it is important to understand some of the main factors involved in the causation of accidents. Accident-prone interactions, or APIs, are arguably the most important concept to understand. According to David Navone in his study “The Paradox of Driving Speed,” APIs are instances in which two vehicles come in close proximity of each other. There are multiple types of APIs. According to Navone, the four types are “(a) when cars moving on intersecting roads come at about the same time to an intersection, (b) when cars moving in opposite directions on the same undivided road pass each other, (c) when cars moving in the same direction on different lanes of the same road momentarily drive next to each other, and (d) when a car coming from the rear of another one switches lanes next to the other one (either by switching to an adjacent lane to overtake it, or by returning to the original lane).” It is a very simple concept; when two vehicles come near each other, an API occurs. Increasing the speed limit on highways would decrease the amount of time that each API takes to occur, decreasing the likelihood of the occurrence of an accident.
The next main factor is distractions. There are many different types of distractions that a driver experiences in their commute. Anything that makes it so the driver does not give their full attention to the road is a distraction. According to the CDC in the article “Distracted Driving,” there are three main categories of distractions; visual, cognitive, and manual. An example of a visual distraction is looking at something in the car, such as the radio. A cognitive distraction would be doing anything that takes the driver’s mind off of driving and onto another subject. Manual distractions include distractions that have the driver’s hands off the wheel such as phone usage or eating. One very common distraction nowadays is drivers selecting music to play in the car from their phone. Apps such as Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, and Youtube put millions of songs in the driver’s hands and cause a new distraction every few minutes when the driver chooses a new song.
There was also a good point made in the article from the NHTSA called “Distractions in and Out of the Vehicle” when the author explained that there are also distractions outside of the vehicle including “crash scenes, road construction, and people, places, or things of interest alongside the road.” Paying attention to these distractions causes the driver to no longer have their full attention on the road, even though these distractions are on the road. The driver becomes more focused on that view than on the cars around them.
Finally, there is the concept of critical driving decisions. Critical driving decisions are the decisions made by drivers that either cause or avoid accidents. Many of these decisions occur at intersections. One example is when a driver needs to time their left turn at a green light or a stop sign based on the incoming traffic. If the driver times their turn incorrectly, there could be a few results. The driver could end up hitting or getting hit by the car coming straight through in the intersection, causing a head-on or t-bone style accident. Next, the driver could force the incoming traffic to slam on their brakes, setting up the scene for a possible rear-end accident for the oncoming drivers. Finally, the driver could go into the turn at a speed unfit for the turn and have a whole different type of accident by losing control of their vehicle. Timing the turn correctly would allow the driver to avoid each of these possible accident situations. An example of a critical driving decision not at an intersection is deciding when to change lanes on a highway. If the driver decides to change lanes too early, he or she could get rear-ended by the vehicle traveling in another lane, which could lead to a multiple car accident as everyone slams on their breaks. These critical driving decisions are exactly what their name describes them as, critical. Making the right decision allows the driver to go on with their day and commute, but making the wrong decision could very easily lead to an accident with serious injury or death involved for any of the drivers.
Having a strong understanding of the category of roads being considered to increase the speed limit is very important. This category is arterial roads which include major highways and the interstate system. It is also important to understand the contributors to the causation of accidents such as API rates, distractions, and critical driving decisions. Without understanding these topics, it is easy to be falsely led into believing that speeding is what causes accidents. Considering the other contributors makes it simple to see that increasing the speed limit is not as dangerous as one would initially believe. There are many other more prevalent contributors than speeding in the causation of accidents.
The popular belief is that speeding causes accidents, and while on the surface that statement may be true, it is not the full truth. There are many other key factors in the causation of accidents that include accident-prone interactions, distractions, and critical driving decisions.
One main circumstance in the risk of causation of accidents is the amount of time that two cars spend next to each other. In a 2002 study conducted by David Nanon, he called these “accident-prone interactions” (API), which previously described are simply situations where two cars come near to each other. The concept is very simple, a reduction in the time two cars spend near each other leads to a reduction in accident rates. The study showed that while APIs have a direct relationship with the number of accidents, speed has an inverse relationship with the number of APIs.
In his study, he found that each type of API was either unaffected or reduced by greater speeds. For type-A APIs, involving two cars arriving at an intersection at the same time, the number of encounters was unaffected by greater speeds, but in the write up for the study, Nanon explained that this type of situation was more or less irrelevant to highway driving because it was considering interactions at intersections. A higher frequency of type-A APIs would increase the rate of accidents substantially due to the critical driving decisions made at an intersection.
The frequency of type-B APIs, involving cars moving past each other travelling in opposite directions, was reduced at greater speeds. Nanon explained that driving at higher speeds decreases the time that drivers spend on the road and decrease the number of cars that they come in contact with. Decreasing the number of cars that they come in contact with traveling in the opposite direction definitely would help decrease the rates of accidents on highways. On the other hand, an increase in the number of cars traveling in the opposite direction going past each other would cause an increase in the rate of accidents on a road.
Next, the frequency of type-C APIs, involving two cars passing each other travelling in the same direction, was also greatly reduced at higher driving speeds. Nanon explained that the main reason for this is because the two cars would be traveling past each other in the same direction at such a fast rate, the amount of time they spend next to each other would be minimal. The less time two cars spend next to each other, the lower risk of accidents.
Finally, the number of type-D APIs, involving lane merging, would also be decreased when traveling at a higher rate of speed. Like all of the other situations, the less time two cars spend next to each other, the lower the chance of an accident. Each type of API has a great risk of accident occurence, so decreasing the API rates would lead to a decrease in accident rates.
Next, another key factor in the causation of accidents is distractions. According to a study conducted by the National Highway Safety Administration and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, “Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event.” This evidence shows that distractions play a huge role in the causation of accidents. When drivers become distracted , they usually take their eyes off of the road, which leads them to not be able to see any cars or pedestrians in front of them. Distractions put the driver and other drivers at risk.
The main form of distraction seen all over today is texting and driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “ Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.” This is a serious issue, especially at high speeds. If a driver travels the distance of a football field without paying attention to the road, that would greatly increase the risk of an accident, just like any other form of distraction.
Another common form of distraction while driving is checking the speedometer. Most drivers check the speedometer constantly to ensure that they are not going above the speed limit. In a study conducted by Safe Speed, it was found that it takes the human eyes 0.91 seconds on average to check the speedometer and refocus on the road. That fact is concerning considering that an accident can occur just in a split second.
Next, another key factor in the causation of accidents is the critical driving decisions most commonly made at intersections. When the driver makes the wrong decision, there is a much higher risk of an accident occurring than if the driver made the correct decision. For example, if a driver timed a left turn at an intersection with oncoming traffic incorrectly, it could very well likely lead to an accident. According to Choi from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “In the case of 22.2 percent of crashes, the critical event was turning left….” Making the wrong decision leads to an accident occurring. Although making these decisions at a higher speed could be more difficult, most of these decisions are not commonly made on highways because highways generally do not have intersections.
It is extremely important to understand that speed is not the only factor in accidents. Many other factors are just as important if not more important than speed, and ignoring these factors does a disservice to the understanding of the role that speed plays in accidents. The APIs are arguably the most important in the causation of accidents, and the study shows that higher speed either has no effect or reduces the frequency of APIs. A lower number of APIs would lead to a lower number of accidents. Next, distractions are a huge factor in the causation of accidents. One of these distractions is checking the speedometer and without having to worry about speeding, that distraction could be eliminated on highways altogether. Highways are also designed to decrease the number of distractions through strategies such as cutting the number of billboards. Finally, critical driving decisions are another key factor in the causation of accidents. Making the wrong decision increases the rate of accidents. Although it is difficult to make these decisions at higher speeds, the majority of these decisions are rarely made on highways.
Opponents of increasing the speed limit are quick to jump to the conclusion that increasing the speed limit would inevitably lead to an increase in the number of crashes. While we do not favor raising the speed limit on local and collector roads, the benefits of raising the speed limit on major highways are clear. Increasing the speed limit on major highways would with some positive effects such as an increased flow of traffic, quicker travel times, and a contributing to driver concentration, all while reducing the number of crashes per mile driven.
In the article “Dangers of Increasing Highway Speed Limits,” the author quoted Russ Rader from USA Today who stated, “Higher speeds mean more crashes and more severe ones.” Although it is true that crashes that occur at higher rates of speeds result in higher fatality rates, it is not true that increasing the speed limit on highways leads to higher crash rates. The author of this article provides no evidence to prove that crash rates increase from a higher speed limit. He/she only cited that the increase in speed limit increased the fatality rate. Based on the article “The paradox of driving speed: Two adverse effects on highway accident rate,” it has been proven that an increase of speed limit on highways actually leads to a lower API rate, which in turn leads to a lower crash rate. The faster two cars travel past each other, the less time they are next to each other. This is true for all types of API interactions. It is fascinating, the lower the amount of time two vehicles spend next to each other, the lower the crash rate even at a higher rate of speed.
Critics of increasing the speed limit also like to ignore the multiple advantages that would come along with increasing the speed limit on major highways. One main advantage would be increased traffic flow. In the report from MDPI titled “The Effect of Posted Speed Limit on the Dispersion of Traffic Flow Speed,” the organization found that an increase in speed limit is directly related to the increase of the speed of traffic flow. Their study found that an increase of posted speed limit by 20 km/h increased the speed of traffic flow by 18 km/h. The increased traffic flow would reduce if not eliminate the hassle from standstill traffic. Increased traffic flow leads to the next advantage of increasing the speed limit, quicker travel times.
It is obvious that an increase in speed limit would lead to a decrease in the amount of time that is spent on the road. Long commutes have been proven to increase stress levels. In an article published by the City Clock Magazine titled “Think driving stress is ruining your life? Apparently it is,” they found that driving leads to people experiencing many indicators of stress like anxiety, high heart rate, and high blood pressure and those who drive more take more sick days and end up in the hospital more often. Each of these effects could lead to more detrimental effects if they continue. The same article also explained that “It has also been found that the longer you spend driving results in lower productivity for your employer.” Low level of productivity could lead to someone losing their job and could be detrimental to their workplace. Driving clearly takes a toll on people and decreasing the amount of time they are driving can lead to many positive effects. Spending less time on the road gives people more time to complete their work and most importantly, more time to spend with their family and friends. The higher level of efficiency, more time spent with loved ones, and lower stress levels would allow people to be happier and even more financially stable.
Increasing the speed limit would also lead drivers to concentrate more on the road. Multiple distractions would be cut out of their commutes such as constantly checking the speedometer and surveying the area for police cars. If the driver does not constantly take their eyes off the road to check the speedometer, she is able to be more vigilant to the area around them, instead of having to constantly worry about the speed that they are traveling at. The same effect occurs when drivers are no longer constantly checking all around them for police. Checking for police takes an even greater toll on the concentration of the driver on the road. Drivers check behind themselves, in front of themselves, within the trees, and on the side of the road just in case they catch a glimpse of a Ford Explorer or a Dodge Charger.
Having a speed limit that is higher and more comparable to the speed at which people already drive on the highway would also make people take the speed limit more seriously. For example, the speed limit on the New Jersey Turnpike is 65 miles per hour, but everybody knows that if they go below 80 to 85 miles an hour they are likely to get ran off the road. If the speed limit was 80, maybe people would actually take it seriously. Taking the law seriously also improves the relationship between the people and law enforcement. There would be much less arguing with police officers over tickets if the speed limit actually represented the speed at which most people are actually driving.
The critics of the concept of increasing the speed limit on major highways like to believe that the only effect that would come from doing so would be an increase in accident rate. Not only is that refutation false, they also ignore the positive effects that would come from increasing the speed limit. Increasing the speed limit would increase the flow of traffic leading the less stand-still traffic. A higher flow of traffic would lead to quicker commute times. Spending less time on the road is important considering that longer commutes lead to stress and lower productivity. Finally increasing the speed limit would lead to less distractions for the driver, which leads to a higher level of concentration. Critics should consider these points before making the decision of whether or not to support the increase of speed limits on major highways
All in all, after deep evaluation of statistics and evidence, it is clear that the positive effects of increasing the speed limit on highways surpass the negative effects. Although the fatality rate is higher in high speed accidents, the accident rate is reduced at higher speeds. Some of the numerous positive effects include decreased crash rates, higher traffic flow, and shorter commute times. It is time for highway departments to take increasing the speed limits into serious consideration.
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