A new federal study says congressional action two years ago allowing states to raise speed limits on rural interstate highways has cost about 600 additional lives.
Forty states have raised speed limits to 65 mph since April 1987 when Congress authorized the increase on rural interstates those passing through areas with fewer than 50,000 residents.
A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration appears to confirm the predictions of safety experts that the new speeds would increase highway carnage. The study concluded that fatalities on rural interstates increased by 10 percent in 1987, after discounting the influence of increased travel. In 1988, the increase in fatalities attributable to higher speeds on those highways was 21 percent, it found.
Whatever the studies show, it seems a good bet that the 65 mph speed limit is here to stay, and that there could be increased pressure to raise that limit even higher on superhighways such as the Kansas Turnpike, where 70 was once the longterm limit after a brief flirtation with 80 mph in the mid-1950s.
Further, with the growing incidence of drug-related accidents (70 people per day in the United States due to alcohol abuse alone), is the speed limit as much a factor as substance misuse?
Another factor to consider is that many, many people exceed the 65 mph limit the same as they did the ``alive at 55'' edict, which was imposed by then-President Nixon to conserve fuel rather than to cut the fatality total.
Motor vehicles improperly operated are dangerous pieces of equipment, and speed can kill, certainly. But substance abuse, aggressive or careless behavior, bad roads and mechanical failure are just as prevalent as death threats.
There is a good prospect and it is hoped studies are conducted with this in mind that speed does not make nearly as big an impact on higher death totals as other factors, most notably drug-alcohol influence and deteriorating roadways.