Increased speed limit brings increase in fatalities to Iowa

News Quad-City Times July 07, 2006
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Iowa has seen more fatalities and hundreds of additional speeding tickets since the state raised its speed limit on rural interstates, according to a report issued recently.

The speed limit on rural superhighways increased from 65 to 70 mph on July 1, 2005. Since then, 48 people have died in interstate crashes compared to 41 during the same period in 2004-2005, according to numbers released by the Iowa State Patrol.

The state patrol also issued 27,000 speeding citations on interstates during that period--an increase of about 2,000 tickets over 2004-2005. Public safety officials attributed the jump to increased enforcement efforts, the Quad-City Times reported.

Even as officials issued the numbers, they insisted that the numbers paint a flawed picture of the true impact of the 70 mph limit. Officials could not say how many of the fatalities occurred on the stretches where the speed limit was raised, nor could they confirm how many of the deaths could be directly attributed to speeding, the newspaper reported.

"While any increase in fatalities is unfortunate, it would be premature to attribute an increase in fatalities to the 70 mph limit without additional research," Col. Robert Garrison, chief of the Iowa State Patrol, said in a statement.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) agreed that a one-year snapshot does not tell the entire story, according to the newspaper. He was among 23 senators who voted against raising the rural speed limit in 2005, arguing that the change would make Iowa's roads less safe.

"But I think it does raise some concerns," he said. "If the pattern continues, I would certainly hope that the Legislature would revisit the issue."

Other states that have also raised speed limits have seen similar patterns.

According to a study released in May by the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT), five Midwestern states that raised their limits eight years ago--Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota--have seen increases in fatalities ranging from 7 to 13% annually.

Iowa may already be following the pattern. The state averaged 31 fatalities on its interstates between 2001 and 2004, according to the DOT report. In 2005, which included six months with the higher limit, fatalities rose to 47.

Although more tickets were issued, the DOT reported that the average speed traveled on interstates has only slightly increased to 71.42 mph from just over 70 mph a year ago.

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