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Steven Gursten
Steven Gursten
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Should states raise speed limits?

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In Michigan, debate begins on proposal to increase speed limits to up to 80 miles an hour, following similar legislation in other states

increasing speed limits

It’s a debate that is spanning the country: What is the proper speed limit that will keep traffic flowing but also keep drivers reasonably safe?

And now in Michigan, where I practice personal injury law, a package of bills allowing speed limits to be increased will be introduced in the legislature within the next couple of weeks.

These bills are modeled on similar legislation that is being introduced around the country.

My opposition to these bills is based upon one simple observation – we’re talking about increasing speed limits in states at exactly the same time that distracted driving (because of technology, cell phones and texting) is at its highest. That is a very dangerous combination.

Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) has been working on the bills, which may increase some speed limits in Michigan to up to 80 miles an hour.

Last week, a panel of experts gathered in Lansing to talk about speed limits around Michigan, according to a recent story in The Detroit Free Press. Some advocacy groups, including the Michigan State Police, are backing new speed limits to be set using scientific means such as the “85th percentile” model, which is based on a study that states an appropriate speed is that which 85% of the cars are going (or lower) when conditions are stable (The remaining 15% of the vehicles are going faster).

This is where I get very concerned.  As a lawyer who helps people injured in car accidents, I’ve personally helped countless people who have been catastrophically injured. Many of these car crashes are caused by a lethal combination of speeding and distracted driving.  Increasing speed limits when people aren’t watching the road or when they’re driving distracted because they are texting, for example, only makes the resulting carnage more deadly.

I’ve been very vocal about this proposal and its inherent dangers. I was featured in the Detroit Free Press and also on Fox 2 News as a legal analyst on the subject of speeding. And as I told the reporters, speed kills. Period.

In one of my recent blog posts, “Speed kills – Why increasing Michigan’s speed limit law is a bad idea,” I discussed the physics behind speeding and car accident deaths, based on studies from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.

These studies found an exponential increase in risk of a car driver being killed in a car accident as the vehicle increases in speed.

Sen. Jones says he’s concerned about commuters hitting speed traps as they travel to work at Michigan’s current speeds, and causing fines, higher auto insurance and points on their licenses.

But let’s put this into perspective. If the speed limit in Michigan is legally changed to 80 miles per hour, then the drivers who currently zip around at 5mph or 10mph above whatever the posted speed limit is will likely now go 90 miles per hour.

Currently, when the speed is, say, 70 miles an hour on a busy freeway, it’s not unusual to see drivers zooming past you at 80 or 85 miles per hour.

So why isn’t Sen. Jones concerned about the lives that will be lost in car accidents caused by the higher speed limits? What’s more important, “speed traps” or  lives lost?

To see what speed limits are like throughout the rest of the country, take a look at this chart from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

 – Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by slickimages

1 Comment

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  1. Curt Kinder says:
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    The most important word in the phrase “Insurance Institute for Highway Safety” also happens to be the first word – INSURANCE. The Insurance industry is at its happiest when speed limits set below prevailing speeds and almost every driver is vulnerable to being cited and surcharged for points.

    The premise that drivers automatically add 5-10 mph to the posted limit is also flawed. Georgia just raised posted limit from 55 to 65 on a long stretch of Atlanta’s notorious perimeter.

    Average speed while posted 55 mph – 65.4 MPH
    Average speed after posted 65 mph – 65.3 mph

    Utah had a similar result raising rural limits from 75 to 80 – average speed stayed at 78-79