Are Higher Speed Limits Safer? | WheelHouse

To some people, speed limits are an absolute
necessity for keeping our roads safe, But is that actually the case? Where’d they come from, How do we set
them, and do they work? I’m Nolan Sykes and this is WheelHouse. One of the first speeding infractions for
a car was written in 1899. A bike cop pulled over Jacob German in his
electric taxi. Yes, electric cars were around in 1899, but
we’ll talk about some other time. And yes, he was pulled over by a bike cop. German was going 12 in an 8; dude what were
you thinking? You’re so reckless. There are people and horses and vegetables. Think about the cantaloupes! By 1930, about half of the states had their
own speed limit laws. But in 1942, a nationwide speed limit of 35
was enacted to save fuel and rubber for the war effort. But after WWII, States started to question
whether the Federal Government even had the right to tell them what laws to put on their
roads. From ’42 to ’74, state speed limits varied greatly,
but in 1974 the Federal government mandated new legislation in response to the oil crisis. But they couldn’t set a national speed limit outright,
because states would get pissed. So, they enacted The Emergency Highway Energy
Conservation Act or EHCA. It didn’t set a national speed limit, but
it did limit federal highway project funding for states with speed limits over 55 miles
an hour. To the dismay or most drivers in the US, states
set their maximum speed limit to 55 miles an hour, because they needed that Federal
money to maintain their roads. Washington thought that lower speeds would
mean lower fuel consumption. And it did…about one percent lower . So…it
kinda worked. In the end, the states won out, and The EHCA
was repealed in 1995, and states were again free to set the limits to whatever they wanted. But how would they decide? Believe it or not, We play a part in how speed
limits are set. As a general rule we’ll drive faster if
a road is wider and less congested; and slower if a road is narrower and there has more sight
markers subconsciously telling us how fast we’re going. Knowing this, A stretch of road is can be
monitored by a state’s transportation department. The speed of each vehicle passing by is then
measured and recorded. Let’s say 100 cars were observed. In an increasing order, we choose the 85th
highest speed. What we find is that a wide majority of drivers
fall within plus or minus 5 miles an hour of this number. We round to the nearest five and by this method,
that should be our speed limit. It’s called the 85th Percentile Speed, and
it’s how most local and state governments determine speed limits. Pretty smart. But by the time the suggested speed limit
goes through politicians, community action groups and outraged soccer moms, the speed
limit gets set lower, On average, up to 15 miles an hour lower. Let’s say we measure a stretch of freeway
with the 85th percentile method, and we find that most drivers stick to around 70 miles
an hour. But this stretch runs through a populated
suburb, so the speed limit gets set to 60. Because of this artificial reduction of speeds
that people actually drive, the drivers travelling at the speed their brains tell them is safe,
are now breaking the speed limit. That’s not good. This makes the speed limit seem arbitrary. The problem gets worse when you consider people
driving under the speed limit, which is something we see everyday. What happens if someone driving 5 miles an
hour under the speed limit changes lanes in front of someone driving 5 miles over the
85 percentile? In our case that could be a difference of
20 miles an hour. And if they’re not paying attention, that
could be an accident. So it’s easy to see how not following the
85th percentile rule can make things tricky. But does that necessarily mean the politicians
and soccer moms are wrong? It makes sense that driving faster would be
more dangerous, right? Let’s look at some data. The department of transportation looked at
total accidents at a bunch of sites in a number of states, before and after their speed limits
were altered. Turns out, there was no statistical difference
in the number of accidents relative to the speed limit. So, they found lower speed limits did not mean
fewer accidents. Another study, this time from the National
institutes of Health, looked at the Long-Term Effects of Repealing the National Maximum
Speed Limit . Their study didn’t contradict the one from
the DOT, but they found that the accidents that did happen were more likely to be fatal. So it’s just as safe and more fatal to raise
speed limits. Are there advantages to higher speed limits? Yes. speeding infractions would likely go down,
and traffic flow would improve in some areas. But is that worth the increased risk of fatal
accidents? One example we can look to is the Autobahn The Autobahns are famous for having almost
no speed limits. For the most part, Germans can drive as fast
as they want. And the crazy part is, is it’s safer. But can this be attributed to speed limits
alone? No. Getting a driver’s license in Germany is
waaay harder than it is in the US. Getting a driver’s license costs $2000. Yeah. over here its like 300 bucks. and drivers
follow the rules. In Germany, the left lane is meant exclusively
for passing and the drivers follow that rule religiously. To sum it all up, Speed limits have their
place, as long as they’re done correctly. The issue of whether or not we should we raise
them isn’t black and white. It depends on the road and if the people who
drive decide the increased risk of a fatal accident is worth it. And if speed limits aren’t raised, they’ll
probably just drive the speed they want anyway. Oh and one last thing: Stay out of the passing lane. Thanks for watching WheelHouse. If you liked the video, like the video! Share it if you think other people might like it. Remember to subscribe to Donut. We got a lot of shows. Monday is WheelHouse with me. Tuesday is Field Prep with Matt Field He’s building a Formula Drift Corvette, which is crazy. Wednesday is Science Garage with my buddy Bart Thursday is Up to Speed with James Pumphrey, he tells you everything you need to know about your favorite cars, Friday is The Bestest with Tony, he’s doing a Top 10 countdown of the coolest stuff in the car world. WheelHouse answers the questions you never thought to ask. But what have I not thought to ask? Let me know in the comments! Get in there, write something! I’ll check it out! If you want a Donut shirt we’re selling those @ Shop.Donut.Media You can get yourself your own. We’re also selling stickers Put one on your car, like me. Thanks for watching!