Recently-elected Governor Bob McDonnell is pushing to raise the speed limit in parts of Virginia where the population is “sparse,” according to NBC News, but will this cause more injuries or deaths on the  interstate highways?

McDonnell wants the speed limit in rural Virginia (VA) areas on I-64, I-77, I-81 and I-95 to be raised to 70 mph and presumably this will apply to cars and trucks/tractor trailers.  McDonnell believes that the speed limit increase will assist in moving traffic faster in rural areas. Currently, 45 states have a speed limit of 70 mph or higher.

However, a study published by the American Journal for Public Health reports that over the course of 10 years,12,500 people died across the United States due to an increase in the speed limit.  The study analyses the effect of repealing the National Maximum Speed Law between the years of 1995 and 2005.  The study takes into consideration a number of factors such as vehicle quality, population density and individual driver characteristics.   
Virginia (VA) residents have mixed feelings about the increase however.  Some believe it will not make a difference.  Others believe that it will cause drivers to speed even more, which will likely cause more car or truck accidents with injuries or deaths.  

Public safety is always of the most concern when traffic engineers determine a speed limit.  According to the National Motorists Association, traffic engineers establish a speed limit based on driving patterns. Traffic engineers suggest that the speed limit be set at a level that is the same or under the speed at which 85 percent of motorists drive.  According to many studies, this is the safest percentile at which to set a speed limit. The NMA also reports that most drivers will not drive above the speed limit if it is raised.  Rather, drivers will continue to drive at a speed that is comfortable to them.  Therefore, if the limit is raised to 70 mph, it does not mean that all drivers will drive above 70 mph. 

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports an increase in fatalities due to car or truck accidents in states with higher speed limits. The fatality rate nationwide increased 3 percent on all road types.  It increased as high as 9 percent on rural interstates, areas similar to the Virginia highways that will be impacted should McDonnell’s proposal pass.

The highways that will be affected by proposed the speed limit increase currently experience a high volume of trucks/tractor trailers daily.  According to the AJPH study, “higher speed limits for cars and trucks contributed to higher fatality rates, but differential speed limits by vehicle type had no significant impact.”