Ohio increased the speed limit on its rural interstates back in July, after a state lawmakers’ vote last winter okayed raising the limit from 65 to 70 miles per hour. While certain stretches are still slow-going for drivers, due to construction, The Columbus Dispatch reports that 570 of 1,332 miles of rural interstate are now up to the limit – and Ohio plans to raise speeds on still other rural roads.
Lawmakers were undoubtedly feeling pressure to not only match nearby states’ rural speed limits, but also to save commuters, truckers, shippers, and other drivers time. Yet, as Jack Shaner, deputy director of the Ohio Environmental Council, argues in a recent editorial in The Cleveland Plain Dealer, safety may be sacrificed for speed.
Higher speeds will result in higher-speed collisions (which pose an increased risk of death and worsened injuries). Plus, argues Shaner, higher speeds mean that “fuel economy goes down and tailpipe emissions go up.”
His case can be summarized by three pertinent points:
- Higher speed limits contribute to America’s foreign oil dependency. Petroleum is the top-used energy, at 96% of our total energy use.
- A mere ten-mile-per-hour jump in highway speed limits can result in a noteworthy increase in harmful air emissions. More than a third of all carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds, more than half of all nitrogen oxides, and nearly three quarters of all carbon monoxide are attributable to the transportation sector.
- The increased speed limit means that the “air inside your car will be dirtier than the air outside your car” – this is because the pollutants released by vehicles on the road are concentrated within the volume of your car; even a car’s air filters don’t capture the majority of these negative fumes. (Drivers’ behavior matters, too. Ohio lawmakers might consider a National Motorists Association study which analyzed raised and lowered speed limits in “urban and rural nonlimited access highways.” The study determined that when a speed limit was posted at a speed traveled by 85-percent of that road’s motorists, accidents didn’t increase.)
There are plenty of supporters for the speed limit increase, including Ohio Sen. Tom Patton, a member of the Senate Transportation Committee in Ohio, who argues that the five-mile-per-hour speed increase is a necessary tool for sustaining and supporting the state’s manufacturing industry.
In an editorial for The Plain Dealer, he states that though the increase appears to be just “a small advantage to our business community, those extra few miles per hour can make all the difference” to certain Ohio companies. Further, Patton claims, a 2011 speed increase on the Ohio Turnpike (also raised to 70 mph) has resulted in “in no significant increase” in highway fatalities.
However, that is not the norm. As Russ Rader, of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told the Plain Dealer, “When speed limits go up, fatalities on those roads go up, and when speed limits go down, fatalities go down.”
Regardless of the dip in accidents last year and the increasing speed limit trend throughout the country, the diminished reaction time and heightened impact of high-speed crashes are unarguable. “When you raise speed limits, there is less time to react to an emergency,” says Rader. “When a crash happens, the energy of that crash is much greater.”
Category: Road safety