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Do Speed Limits Actually Keep Us Safer?

Do Speed Limits Actually Keep Us Safer?

It seems like a headline we see all too often: a motorist was killed as result of a high-speed crash while flying down the road at insane speeds. It’s incidents like this that bring law enforcement, politicians, community safety groups, and car insurance companies out to all say the same message: speed kills. They also use this as justification for speed limits on our local roads, slowing drivers down at the risk of an expensive traffic ticket.

However, several studies have shown that speed limits may not actually be keeping us safer in some instances. On this blog, we’ll take a look at how they’re actually increasing the risk of an accident in some situations.

Drivers Choose a Safe Speed

Have you ever noticed that you’re driving along the road and the flow of traffic is doing a speed that’s five, ten, or even 15 to 20 miles per hour faster than the posted speed limit? This is actually a fairly common phenomenon, and it’s demonstrated by what’s known as the “Solomon Curve.” The Solomon curve essentially states that the overwhelming majority of drivers will choose a speed that’s safe and appropriate for the conditions of a given road, regardless of what the posted speed limit is.

For example, drivers in a school zone or commercial business district with a lot of crosswalks, busy sidewalks, and cars parked along the side of the road will usually choose a speed of around 25 to 35 miles per hour: the safest they can navigate on a road of that type. However, on a multi-lane divided highway with no traffic signals or stop signs, such as a freeway, drivers will usually choose speeds around 70 to 75 miles per hour.

Speed Limits & The Solomon Curve

The Solomon Curve indicates that the speed that approximately 85 percent of drivers choose is safe and appropriate, and presents the least chance of an accident. However, there are lots of times when the posted speed limit is actually below the Solomon Curve sweet-spot. When this is the case, there will always be a percentage of drivers who try to be good sports about the law and follow it (as we said, speeding tickets are expensive, as is car insurance). However, when these people are driving five, ten or even 15+ miles per hour slower than the flow of traffic, they become a serious safety risk to those around them.

Look at it this way: you’re cruising down a wide-open multi-lane divided highway at a comfortable speed of 65 miles per hour. The majority of cars around you are doing roughly the same speed, with about a two or three mile per hour difference. However, the posted speed limit is just 50 miles per hour, and you come up to a car who is doing 45 to stay safely under the limit. At this point, not only do you have to slam on your brakes to avoid hitting that driver, but then you have to worry about changing lanes to get around them. This immediately becomes an extremely dangerous situation: not only do you have to worry about other drivers behind you having to slow down to avoid hitting you, but you also need to figure out how to safely change lanes to get around them. When you have a difference of 20 miles per hour between yourself and the rest of the flow of traffic, that becomes an immensely dangerous maneuver that requires several hundred feet of space between you and the next driver back.

If the road is busy, you may not necessarily get the perfect opportunity, so you’ll try to jump in where you can and jam on the gas to try and get up to speed again quickly, but by that point the driver behind you may have to slow down, causing the drivers behind them to have to pay attention and slow down, and thus, you get a domino effect of accident risk behind you, all because of one driver going way slower than the flow of traffic.

How to Improve Safety

Several studies have shown that increasing speed limits on these roads will not only encourage people to drive safer, but even decrease accident risks. A study conducted in 1997, known as the “Parker” study, chose 100 sites across the country and either raised or lowered the speed limit slightly and calculated the effects the changes had on accident rates. The results were exactly the opposite of what we hear from so many people: the areas with increased speed limits saw a decline accidents, while the areas with the lower limits actually saw more accidents than before. This is because the areas with higher limits saw fewer motorists driving at speeds that interfered with the flow of traffic.

That doesn’t mean drivers who drive recklessly fast shouldn’t be cited and pulled off the road—speed limits do have a purpose. However, speed limits that are too low create speed variance, and speed variance is one of the leading causes of speed-related car accidents. As such, if authorities really wanted to keep people safe, they’d make fewer speed traps (roads with unnecessarily low speed limits) and increase the limits on roads that can safely handle higher speeds to encourage more drivers to move at reasonable speeds.

If you’ve been hurt in a car accident, don’t hesitate to reach out to the skilled Waterbury car accident attorneys from Fitzpatrick Mariano Santos Sousa P.C. today by dialing (203) 583-8299!