Increased Speed Limits Mean Increased Deaths (even on autobahns, not just interstates!)

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [IIHS], lawmakers in Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York are considering raising their maximum speed limits.  However, IIHS research shows that in the USA between 1993 and 2017 such increases killed almost 40,000 additional people.

(Copyright image, 2014)

Indeed, there is plenty more evidence to show that raising speed limits increases the numbers of crashes and casualties.


A view down onto a fast-moving semi-tractor-trailer.
In the USA, the common practice is that all vehicles should have the same maximum speed limit to reduce speed differences between vehicles. In other countries with lower crash rates, however, this belief is not applied.  (Copyright image, 2017.  All rights reserved.)

Many people try to point to autobahns in Germany as being some sort of ‘proof’ that high speeds on highways are safe, but this is very clearly not the case.

Data analysis by Der Spiegel, a highly-trusted German news magazine and website, has concluded that a speed limit applied across all German autobahns [with none of them allowed to continue to have no speed limit] would save 140 lives a year.

The transport minister Andreas Scheuer ruled out applying a speed limit on all sections, calling it an “unrealistic demand” and against “all common sense”.  He also falsely stated that German motorways are “the safest in the world”.

According to research by the European Transport Safety Council [ETSC], Germany’s motorways are not the safest in the world.

Even by European standards, Germany only ranks in tenth place amongst countries that publish data on deaths per billion-km of motorway travelThe risk of death on a German motorway is around twice as high as on a British or Danish one.  The autobahn myth is debunked.

Research by the German Road Safety Council (DVR), has shown that there are, on average, 25% more deaths on sections of the autobahn without speed limits compared to those with a limit.

Der Spiegel has also pointed to ‘before and after’ studies when a 130km/h limit was introduced on sections of the autobahn -– and found that deaths and serious injuries reduced considerably.

False Assumptions

Sadly, a large proportion of drivers will glance at research or statistics — assuming they ever get to see any — then try to sound clever by trotting out the ancient saying about ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’.

What they fail or refuse to grasp is that not only are modern statistics extraordinarily demanding in their accuracy, but to put it bluntly, in terms of road safety a lot of statistics actually represent body counts;  something it’s rather hard to get wrong!

More Facts

Denmark increased the speed limit on motorways from 110→130 km/h.  The mean speed increased by just 1.9 percent but crashes and casualties increased by a very significant 21.0 percent.  (The small increase in mean speed strongly undermines the argument that increasing a speed limit does not mean that everyone will drive a lot faster and will therefore not affect crash rates.)

Italy introduced widespread speed cameras on motorways.  The mean speed fell by 9.8 percent, and crashes/casualties were reduced by a massive 32.0 percent.

Norway — the speed limit for major, undivided rural roads and for arterial roads is 60 km/h (38mph).  Copyright image.

Norway reduced the speed limit on arterial roads from 80→60 km/h (50→38mph).  The mean speed fell by 7.5 percent but injury crashes were reduced by a massive 28.0 percent.

Sweden increased the speed limit on rural motorways from 110→120 km/h (68→75mph).  The mean speed increased by only  3.0 percent but crashes involving people killed or seriously injured [KSI] increased by a catastrophic 128.0 percent.

There is a huge amount of research out there about the deadly effects of increased speeds on casualty rates, and it all points in the same direction.

Legislators do a vicious disservice to the public if they decide to ignore road safety research in favor of being popular and getting more votes at the next election.  It is as simple and brutal as that.

Do you want a lot more dead or injured people, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York?



  • ETSC
  • Speed and Crash Risk.  OECD/ITF, 2018



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