Will 85 mph speed limit cause or prevent car accidents?

What is the biggest cause of car accidents in Birmingham? Is it cars that drive too fast and cause fatal accidents, or is it cars that drive at speeds other than the posted speed limit? There is no concrete data available, but one state is taking a gamble and arguing that it's the latter. To solve that problem and hopefully help reduce the number of car accidents, the state is suggesting a new, higher speed limit on one stretch of highway.

If things go as planned, the new highway could have a speed limit of 85 mph. The speed limit would be the fastest in the Western hemisphere and the second-fastest posted speed limit in the world. (The fastest speed limit is 140 kilometers per hour, which is about 86 mph.)

Before the federally mandated 55 mph speed limit was approved in 1974, there were numerous states that had high speed limits. There were even two states that had not posted speed limit. Since then, things have changed. Now there are only two states in the country that have speed limits of 80 mph. However,

Even if the new stretch of highway receives a speed limit of 85 mph, it will still be the only stretch in the country with the increased speed limit -- for now, at least. In Texas, where the new highway is being built, the legislature passed a law that will allow speed limits of up to 85 mph on newly constructed highways that are determined to be safe enough to allow such speeds.

Although many critics say the higher speed limits will lead to more fatal accidents, others disagree. One spokesperson with the Department of Transportation said that the safest roads are the ones where all motorists are traveling the same speed.

However, is an 85 mph speed limit the most effective way to accomplish that? Many drivers -- such as seniors and inexperienced drivers -- do not feel comfortable higher speed limits. If those drivers do not travel on alternate roads, they may only add to the disparity between the speeds of everyone on the road.

Source: Reuters, "Texas studies 85 mph speed limit, fastest in U.S.," Jim Forsyth, June 7, 2012

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