Countless more Floridians will die or be injured unless the Legislature puts the brakes on an ill-advised proposal to raise speed limits on certain Florida highways, three leading safety advocates warned today. Across the country, they pointed out, states that have raised highway speed limits have consistently experienced more crashes as drivers exceed their ability to safely operate vehicles.
John Ulczycki, vice president-strategic initiatives with the National Safety Council, and Walter Dartland, executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, were joined by Wakulla County Sheriff Charlie Creel at a news conference to oppose higher speed limits. The trio said speed limits should be based on science and safety, not political considerations.
“It’s clear that injuries and fatalities go up whenever someone raises the speed limit,” Ulczycki said. “Raising speed limits will increase the likelihood of a crash, and the government would in effect be telling people it’s safe to drive faster. This means even more people may come to falsely believe that speeding is safe, and that’s a very dangerous outlook.”
“I spent 30 years watching people die on the roads, and I can’t support anything that would add to that sad body count,” added Sheriff Creel, who served 30 years as a Florida Highway Patrol trooper. “This proposal is a bad idea that would be a dangerous law.”
While Florida’s current speed limits have remained constant, the number of crashes and fatalities has declined steadily as motorists heed safety warnings and vehicle safety improves. According to DHSMV statistics, from 2007 to 2011 (the last year before reporting methodology changed), the number of crashes across the state dropped 11 percent, from more than 256,000 to less than 228,000. During the same time period, fatalities declined 25.5 percent, from more than 3,200 to 2,400.
“We’re doing better and better keeping people alive at current speeds. It’s just inevitable that higher speeds would mean more crashes,” said Dartland. “It’s a bad idea from a safety standpoint, and that problem is made even worse when you consider the impact to consumers of higher insurance rates, reduced fuel efficiency and other societal costs.”
With 15.4 million licensed drivers and millions of tourists using the state’s roadways, much of Florida faces chronic traffic congestion, Ulczycki and Dartland noted. A 2012 study by Movoto and the Allstate Insurance Company concluded that, based on a variety of factors, Florida is home to three of the four U.S. cities with the worst drivers: Miami, Hialeah and Tampa.
The Governors Highway Safety Association reported last year that almost one-third of all traffic fatalities are speed-related, and the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies reported in 2006 that, other things being equal, a 10-mph increase in the speed limit on a typical high-speed roadway can be expected to lead to about a 3 percent jump in crash counts. That same study found that increasing the speed limit from 55 to 65 increased the probability of a fatal crash by 24 percent, while advancing it from 65 to 75 increased the likelihood by 12 percent.
“There is already too much blood on the highways of our nation,” Ulczycki said. “Impatience is no good reason to make our highways even more dangerous by raising the speed limit. It’s simply not worth the risk.”
The proposed legislation has been proposed by Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.