Will 85 MPH in Texas up the speed elsewhere?
Texas Highway 130 sets the bar as the highest posted speed limit in America. It's safe to say that 85 MPH in Texas could up the speed elsewhere to please an increasingly impatient constituency.
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UPDATED: Jun 17, 2022
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By Joni Gray
Why does 85 MPH in Texas matter for the rest of the United States?
The fastest highway in Texas is a 41-mile-long toll road in the Lone Star State called Texas Highway 130 (SH130), connecting Austin and San Antonio. This highway has set the bar as the highest posted maximum speed limit in America at 85 miles per hour.
Where’s this rise in speed limits coming from? Since 1995, when Congress repealed all federally imposed speed limits, the states have taken responsibility for the posted legal speed limits of individual cities and towns. In the years that followed, speeds have been steadily on the rise.
There are 36 states with 70 miles per hour limits, 12 that allow speeds on some highways to reach 75, and only the 2 states of Utah and Texas post 80 miles per hour signs on selected highways and tolls. Most of the roads with higher speed limits are in rural, lower-populated areas.
Why 85 MPH in Texas?
The support for higher legal miles per hour and resulting political pressure from drivers to legislators is easily explained by a culture growing used to instant access to all things. God forbid we don’t get where we are going as fast as humanly possible.
Safety experts have a growing concern about this trend. Research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that few drivers view speeding as an immediate risk to themselves or others, yet the probability of traffic deaths, disfigurement, or injury grows with higher speed at impact and doubles for every 10 mph over 50 miles per hour that a vehicle travels.
The fatality numbers are alarming. The NHTSA reports that on average, 1,000 Americans are killed every month in speed-related crashes and 66% of speed-related crashes involve a single vehicle.
More importantly, many drivers on higher-speed roads will go even faster. Yes, police may be stricter about the driver who goes 5 miles per hour over the speed limit in an 85 zone compared to a 65 zone. Drivers who are used to going 10 over will continue to go 10 over, further increasing the risk.
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Is Texas’ speed limit 85 good or bad?
The good news is that rates for traffic fatalities are on the decline. Between 2006 and 2012, there have been a reported 27% fewer deaths due to traffic collisions. Experts do not believe this comes from safer driving at lower speeds. It’s been concluded instead that the combination of motor vehicles built to handle at higher speeds and improved passive and active safety technology are the key reasons for the change. Things like lane departure warnings and safety features that actually apply brakes before a collision go a long way toward preventing deadly accidents.
No matter how you slice it, increasing the speed limit invites people to push the boundaries up. Or so says Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director with the Governor’s Highway Safety Association in Texas.
“Whenever we see a posted speed limit, we think we can go above it,” Adkins said. “We think we can go 5 or 10 mph above it and in a lot of cases we can’t, so the reality is you’re talking about the flow of traffic being 90, 95, even a little bit more, and so if you’re in a crash, you’re just not going to survive, even if you wear a seatbelt.”
Clearly, his concern is that American drivers who typically push to be going faster than the maximum limits are more likely to end up in a fatal crash on roads with a higher set MPH speed limit than those drivers abiding by slower posted limits on standard public highways.
What about fast lane hogs?
This is not what you might think. We aren’t talking about drivers who sit in the fast lane when it’s supposed to be a passing lane.
With all the arguments for and against an 85 MPH limit, an unforeseen factor was allegedly the cause of the first three accidents that occurred after the opening of SH130 in October of 2012. Officials in the area have reported that two wild hogs and a deer were hit on the road since its opening. A local news station reported video footage from the local police officials, showing examples of the feral hogs running into the highway and the easy access wildlife has to the high-speed road. They report that the hogs have become such a problem in the local area, that there is a bounty of $2 per tail on them due to overpopulation.
So, with all the arguments about high-speed safety, the first accidents on SH130 did not reportedly involve speed. This does beg the question: will driving that fast put you in a more dangerous situation when wildlife has easy access to the highway?
What are the economics of speed?
The cost of driving on America’s fastest highway is an average of $6.17 one way. That price pays for shaving off around 9 minutes on a trip that usually takes around 38 minutes to complete. Not too surprising is the fact that high-speed highways are money-makers and that’s where the rubber literally meets the road. If the case of Texas State Highway 130 is any clue to the future, driving faster on toll roads is a profitable venture for state governments.
The private company that built SH130, Cintra-Zachry, was confident that the toll road could be a money-maker in the market for speed. In fact, they baked it into the deal. The company offered the five-member state legislators a financial incentive in its contract $67 million cash payment upfront or a percentage of the toll profits in the future for posting at 80 mph, and $100 million upfront or a corresponding increase in profit.
Speed also drives up gas prices. When you start going faster than standard freeway speeds, you lose miles per gallon quickly.
So with states looking for any way possible to become financially healthy and please an increasingly impatient constituency, the future of maximum speed limit increases seems to be fast approaching whether we like it or not.
What do you think? Do you want higher miles per hour on your highways, or are you happy with the way they are now?