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Did the 65 mph Speed Limit Save Lives?


  • Lave, Charles
  • Elias, Patrick


In 1987, most states raised the speed limit from 55 to 65 mph on portions of their rural interstate highways. There was intense debate about the increase, and numerous evaluations were conducted afterwards. These evaluations share a common problem: they only measure the local effects of the change. But the change must be judged by its system-wide effects. In particular, the new 65 mph limit allowed the state highway patrols to shift their resources from speed enforcement on the interstates to other safety activities and other highways -- a shift many highway patrol chiefs had argued for. If the chiefs were correct, the new allocation of patrol resources should lead to a reduction in statewide fatality rates. Similarly, the change to drive faster on the interstates should attract drivers away from other, more dangerous roads, again generating system-wide consequences. This study measures these changes and obtains surprising results. We find that the 65 mph limit reduced statewide fatality rates by 3.4% to 5.1%, holding constant the effects of long-term trend, driving exposure, seat belt laws, and economic factors.

Suggested Citation

  • Lave, Charles & Elias, Patrick, 1994. "Did the 65 mph Speed Limit Save Lives?," University of California Transportation Center, Working Papers qt0z88b38t, University of California Transportation Center.
  • Handle: RePEc:cdl:uctcwp:qt0z88b38t

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    Cited by:

    1. Castillo-Manzano, José I. & Castro-Nuño, Mercedes & Pedregal-Tercero, Diego J., 2014. "Temporary speed limit changes: An econometric estimation of the effects of the Spanish Energy Efficiency and Saving Plan," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 44(S1), pages 68-76.
    2. David J. Houston & Lilliard E. Richardson, Jr., 2006. "Reducing traffic fatalities in the American States by upgrading seat belt use laws to primary enforcement," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 25(3), pages 645-659.
    3. Sébastien Roux & Philippe Zamora, 2011. "Short and Medium-Run Local Effects of Fixed Speed Enforcement Cameras on Accidents : Evidence from the French Case," Working Papers 2011-01, Center for Research in Economics and Statistics.
    4. Sébastien Roux & Philippe Zamora, 2013. "L'impact local des radars fixes sur les accidents de la route : un effet important après l'installation mais plus réduit à long terme," Économie et Statistique, Programme National Persée, vol. 460(1), pages 37-68.
    5. Mercedes Castro-Nuno & José I. Castillo-Manzano & Diego J. Pedregal-Tercero, 2013. "The Speed Limits Debate: Is Effective A Temporary Change? The Case Of Spain," ERSA conference papers ersa13p160, European Regional Science Association.
    6. Yang, Hai & Wang, Xiaolei & Yin, Yafeng, 2012. "The impact of speed limits on traffic equilibrium and system performance in networks," Transportation Research Part B: Methodological, Elsevier, vol. 46(10), pages 1295-1307.
    7. Kockelman, Kara M. & Ma, Jianming, 2007. "Freeway Speeds and Speed Variations Preceding Crashes, Within and Across Lanes," Journal of the Transportation Research Forum, Transportation Research Forum, vol. 46(1), pages 1-20.
    8. Dee, Thomas S. & Sela, Rebecca J., 2003. "The fatality effects of highway speed limits by gender and age," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 79(3), pages 401-408, June.
    9. Cameron Hepburn, 2006. "Regulation by Prices, Quantities, or Both: A Review of Instrument Choice," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 22(2), pages 226-247, Summer.
    10. Wang, Xiaolei & Ye, Hongbo & Yang, Hai, 2015. "Decentralizing Pareto-efficient network flow/speed patterns with hybrid schemes of speed limit and road pricing," Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review, Elsevier, vol. 83(C), pages 51-64.
    11. Jeffrey R Brubacher & Herbert Chan & Shannon Erdelyi & Gordon Lovegrove & Farhad Faghihi, 2018. "Road Safety Impact of Increased Rural Highway Speed Limits in British Columbia, Canada," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(10), pages 1-19, October.
    12. Jie Yang & Jinliang Xu & Chao Gao & Guohua Bai & Linfang Xie & Menghui Li, 2019. "Modeling of the Relationship Between Speed Limit and Characteristic Speed of Expressway Traffic Flow," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(17), pages 1-12, August.
    13. Thomas S Dee, 2001. "Does setting limits save lives? The case of 0.08 BAC laws," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 20(1), pages 111-128.

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