December 8 marks the 10-year anniversary of the repeal of the National Maximum Speed Limit (NMSL) -- ending the federal requirement that states keep speed limits at a maximum of 65 miles per hour (mph) in rural areas and 55 mph in urban locations. According to a recent survey by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), some 40 states have increased their speed limits since the repeal.

While national statistics indicate highway fatalities have stayed relatively level since the NMSL repeal, said GHSA chairman Lt. Colonel Jim Champagne, neither have they fallen.

“The nation should have experienced a significant decline in total fatalities and injuries given the tremendous increase in safety belt use coupled with the increasingly safe design of vehicles,” he said.

“However, it appears these benefits have been offset both by increasing speed limits and the public exceeding these increased posted limits,” Champagne noted. “Drunk driving, failure to wear safety belts and speeding- these are the big three killers on our roadways. These three issues deserve priority of attention if we are going to make significant progress in reducing [highway] deaths.”

Research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) indicates 31 states have increased their speed limits to 70 mph or higher on some portion of their roadways since the repeal of the NMSL in 1995, and it said that global studies consistently show that when speed limits are increased, highway deaths on the roads go up.

In 1999, IIHS researchers compared the number of motor vehicle occupant deaths in 24 states that raised speed limits with corresponding fatality counts in the six years before the speed limits were changed – and estimated that there was a 15% increase in deaths on interstates and freeways.

“When speeds are higher, stopping distance increases making crashes more likely, and crash severity is greater,” says Susan Ferguson, IIHS senior vp-research. “There is a price we pay for higher speeds, and that is more lives lost on our highways. On top of that, there’s recognition around the world that in order to significantly reduce motor vehicle deaths, you need to reduce speeds. It is time we apply that lesson in this country.”