Nearly 46.9 million Americans will travel over the long Thanksgiving weekend – the busiest U.S. travel holiday of the year. As we take to the airports and roads to visit family and friends this Thanksgiving, words of caution fill the air and safety tips cover notice boards. Wednesday is not just the busiest travel day, Progressive Insurance found accidents also increase by 25 percent the day before Thanksgiving.
But just as you thought safety regulations were tightening, there is nationwide debate brewing about questionably risker regulation. The U.S. wants to raise the interstate speed limit.
Early this month, Wisconsin’s freeway speed limit increased from 65 to 70 mph. Utah bumped the limit to 80, and officials say highway crashes have dropped annually on stretches of rural Interstate 15. Last year, Utah also as raised the speed limit from 65 to 70 on urban interstates around populated Salt Lake City, which officials say prompts more regularity on the road, hastening even the slowest drivers.
Furthermore, those in support of the U.S. speed-limit bump have a famous international standard for comparison. The Autobahn, Germany’s longest and most populated highway spanning over 8,000 miles, does not have a speed limit. Hard to believe? The real shocker is that reports say the U.S. has more car accidents on its speed-limited highways than the ultra-speedy German Autobahn.
Why does the U.S. surpass Germany in accidents considering the stricter highway structure? The statistics have sparked a nationwide conversation.
Counterintuitively, many attribute the higher accident rate to a slower U.S. speed limit. Their argument? Well the Autobahn has a lower accident rate with no speed limit, so if the U.S. also doesn’t have a speed limit then our accident rate will go down too, right?
Still, many use the anti-speed limit Autobahn to back up their argument, comparing the strictly monitored U.S. interstate to the “unregulated” German highway. Are they correct? Let’s look at the facts. According to marketing expert and blog master, Brandon Gaille:
The accident rate on the Autobahn is consistently lower than many other interstate style highway systems, partly because of its better construction – it has a 40-year rating. The US highway system has a 20-year rating. The fatality rate on the Autobahn is 2.7 per billion kilometers traveled. The U.S. has a 4.5 fatality rate for the same distance, and highly controlled speeds to boot.
However, there’s another side to the coin. There are many lesser-known reasons that may be the reason for fewer accidents on German roads. Unbeknownst to many who think of the Autobahn as a free-for-all speedway, in fact, the Autobahn has more restrictions than the U.S. First, German laws make it illegal to pass a vehicle on the right side, reducing the typical weaving between multiple lanes of traffic that is seen in the U.S. Second, it is far more difficult to get a German driver’s license and somewhat cost prohibitive with a price tag upwards of $1500, so drivers will have more knowledge about safe driving and think twice before signing away their paycheck. Third, German autobahns are an engineering marvel of road surface construction: they are unbelievably well maintained and smooth, with none of the poorly constructed undulations, bumps, and dips of American freeways.
While U.S. speed limits are rising nationwide, especially in wide-open Western states, many safety officials are still scratching their heads over a perilous trend they say will lead to more fatalities.” The research is clear and consistent on the safety consequences of raising speed limits,” said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “Higher speed limits get people to their destinations faster, but there’s always a cost: Ultimately, there will be more severe crashes and more deaths on those roads. At the end of the day, it’s simple physics.”
To me, it doesn’t seem like the speed is the problem. It’s the lack of driver education, poor equipment, overall road regulation and an overall U.S. driving culture. Most Americans couldn’t handle the greater responsibility required by higher speed limits and derestricted stretches of highway. Combine the responsibility with a general sense of entitlement – with large SUVs sitting in the passing lane doing 55 mph while surrounding traffic is doing 65 – and most of the problem remains in a U.S./European cultural divide. All things considered, it doesn’t look like a smart move for the U.S. to continue raising the speed limit.