We’ve been saying it for years, and now we’ve got someone smart to back us up: it’s time to raise the speed limit. In an article called “Roads Are Better. Cars Are Safer. Let’s Raise the Speed Limit,” Stephen Boyles, an Assistant Professor of Transportation Engineering at the University of Texas, makes the case that not only do our current speed limits not increase safety; they actually make things worse.
According to Boyles:
Research shows that the speed limit has little effect on how fast people drive. Traffic engineers have tried all kinds of tricks — flashing lights, pink signs, cute speed limits such as 48 instead of 50 — and they all work only for a week or two until the novelty wears off.
While many drivers ignore speed limits altogether, others do try to follow them out of a sense of safety or obedience.
This difference in speeds is actually more dangerous than if everyone were driving at a faster speed. We’ve all felt the frustration of being behind slow drivers and annoyance at aggressive drivers weaving through traffic. Both of these situations are dangerous and make traffic worse.
He goes on to reference Texas 130, a road with a speed limit at 85 mph. Boyles implies that this speed limit works because modern roads are engineered for this kind of driving. Importantly, he notes that “speed limits should be set at the 85th percentile of traffic speed. That is, only about 1 out of 7 cars should be driving faster than the speed limit. Any more than that and the speed limit should be raised.”
Whether modern laws will catch up with modern roads remains to be seen. In the meantime, don’t try to use this op-ed as a way to get out of a speeding ticket. I’m pretty sure that won’t work.
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