A law passed in 2013 allowed the Turnpike Authority and the Maine Department of Transportation to change local laws on speed limits. The change could occur as long as the Maine State Police gave their approval. After the passage of this law, Maine Department of Transportation increased the speed limit on several sections of Interstate 95 from 65 MPH to 70 MPH.
In making changes to the speed limit, Maine became part of a long list of states which, since 2011, have changed its speed limits to allow motorists to go faster. Star Tribune reports rising speed limits are a "national trend," despite the fact unsafe speeds are the leading contributing human factor for single-vehicle accidents and one of the leading factors for multi-vehicle accidents.
Excessive speed is the cause of around 21.6 percent of single vehicle collisions. Excessive speed is also the fourth-largest contributing human cause when it comes to multi-vehicle collisions. When speed limits go up, things become worse as far as road safety.
Wired.com reported on the consequences of the troubling trend of rising speed limits. Wired indicates a 20-year study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed rising speed limits were responsible for 12,545 fatalities and another 36,583 injuries between 1995 and 2005. On rural roads, especially, speed limit increases had a profound impact. The number of fatalities on rural interstates which were blamed on high speeds jumped 9.1 percent from 1995 to 2005.
Despite the clear danger, states have raised speed limits anyway for lots of different reasons. One issue is speeding exists in a cultural gray area because virtually everyone breaks the law and speeds. Close to half of all drivers have responded to studies saying they regularly exceed posted legal limits and 16 percent of people surveyed by AAA said they think driving faster than the speed limit is not dangerous for skilled drivers. The "wrongness" of speeding is not viewed the same way as other high-risk behaviors like drunk driving, because the speed at which someone travels is simply a continuum and there is no clear cut deviant behavior involved in speeding.
States which raise limits sometimes figure they are just changing the rules to reflect people's actual behavior. Public antipathy for regulation is also a contributing factor, as people want higher speed limits and politicians respond to this desire. Unfortunately, when speed limits are raised, some people begin to go even faster, while other motorists won't even necessarily go up to the new elevated limits because some motorists are simply afraid to drive fast. The increased gaps in traffic speed contribute to making roads even more dangerous.
Whatever the reason why Maine and other states have changed the rules to allow drivers to go faster, the consequences of this decision could be detrimental to road safety. Drivers need to ensure they are traveling at a speed which is safe for current road conditions, regardless of posted limits.