Do Higher Speed Limits Increase Car Accidents?

Lisa Steuer McArdle
· 4 min read

Do Higher Speed Limits Increase Car Accidents?

is a dangerous activity that increases the likelihood of a
car accident
. After all, there were more than 9,000 deaths from speed-related crashes in 2019, according to the
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
(IIHS). That’s 26% of all crash fatalities that occur.
In the U.S., different states have different speed limit laws. According to our data analysis here at
, many states have speed limits in
rural areas
of 70 mph or above, with states like Montana, Nevada, and South Dakota even reaching speed limits of 80 mph on rural interstates.
So do higher speed limits actually increase vehicle crashes? We decided to take a closer look.
According to the IIHS, raising speed limits increases vehicle deaths because people often drive faster than the speed limit.
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State speed limits

Speed limit laws date back to 1901, according to the IIHS. While speed limits have traditionally been handled by the states, a national maximum speed limit of 55 mph was put in place in the 1970s and 1980s. However, this was repealed in 1995, and since then speed limits have increased.
Right now, more than 20 states have maximum speed limits of 70 mph, while more than 10 states have a speed limit of 75 mph on some roadway systems.
While a direct state-to-state comparison on car accident numbers and speeding is difficult since some states have higher populations, there is some interesting data out there about a possible correlation between speed limits and vehicle crashes.
According to the IIHS, raising speed limits increases vehicle deaths because people often drive faster than the speed limit. 

Why speeding increases the chance of car accidents

It’s not hard to understand why speeding could cause a car accident. It’s easier for a driver to lose control and increases the distance a driver needs to stop a vehicle when braking.
Speeding also increases the severity of injuries in an accident, according to the IIHS. The IIHS reports that when impact speed is increased from 40 mph to 60 mph, the crash energy that needs to be managed increases by 125%.
There is research from the 1960s that suggests that speed variation is the real danger. It was found that vehicles traveling on two-lane rural roads traveling much faster or much slower than average were more likely to be involved in car accidents—but also that involvement in severe car crashes did increase with speed. 

Staying safe if another car is speeding

You can control if you speed or not, but unfortunately, no matter how
safely you drive
, you will inevitably encounter someone who is driving dangerously. Even so, there are ways to protect yourself, according to the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
If you are driving and another car is speeding, try to give them plenty of space. It’s easy for a speeding driver to lose control of the car.
If you are in the left lane and it’s clear that a driver wants to pass you, move over so they can.
You especially want to be careful if the driver is tailgating you. Speeding can be tied to
aggressive driving
, so it’s best to safely steer out of the way. If it appears the driver is following or harassing you, call the police if you can safely do so.
If you’ve gotten a speeding ticket that increased your insurance premium,
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