In September 2011, Maine became the only state east of the Mississippi River to have a stretch of highway where 75 mph is the legal speed limit. According to locals, no one ever obeyed the old limit along the isolated stretch of Interstate 95 anyway.
Now, for approximately 110 miles starting north of Bangor, motorists can legally put the pedal to the metal. Drivers who don’t get ticketed don’t have trouble keeping cheap insurance rates, but what’s the real story on speeding and auto risk?
Where Can You Drive Fast Legally?
Thirteen Western states have the 75 mph speed limit, with some areas in Texas going up to as much as 85 mph. These states are:
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
Although it may seem counter to the perceived wisdom that the slower you drive, the safer you are, the state Transportation Department in Maine said it based its speed limit calculations on the rate at which 85 percent of motorists on a given route travel. They surveyed I-95 and found the average to be 74-75 mph. This is the same general policy most state transportation departments follow.
Opinions on Speed Vary by Source
Studies show that drivers, regardless of the posted speed, will travel at the rate they find comfortable. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety disagrees, however, saying if you let people drive 75, they’ll speed anyway — up into the 80s and beyond. And, according to the IIHS, higher speeds do cause more accidents.
Of course, every group comes at the question of speed from its own perspective. The American Trucking Association, for instance, is in favor of slower speeds purely to save fuel and operate more economically. They point to a “sweet spot” around 62-65 mph, which the U.S. Department of Energy affirms. The truckers want a national 65 mph speed limit and support electronic governors on big rigs.
The Insurance Industry and Speeding
The insurance industry has always looked at a driver’s record when figuring rates on individual policies. Citations of any kind affect the perceived safety profile, with speed being a major red flag, especially when paired with a particular make and model. If you drive a Porsche and have speeding tickets coming out your ears, it’s not too hard to put two and two together.
The emerging genre of pay-as-you-drive policies, that more and more include some form of active, on-board monitoring, plainly state that speed is a factor taken into consideration. The companies do not turn in policy holders who speed, but those drivers won’t get the same level of discounts. So, in a sense, there’s behavior modification involved in PAYD coverage.
What Do the Numbers Say?
According to the latest census data, there were:
- 33,808 traffic fatalities in the U.S. in 2009,
- with 10,591 directly linked to speeding.
On interstate highways, there were:
- 964 deaths at 55 mph+ and,
- 287 at 55 mph or lower.
For non-interstate speed-related deaths, there were:
- 2,701 at 55 mph,
- 465 at 50 mph,
- 1,508 at 45 mph,
- 724 at 40 mph,
- 1,279 at 35 mph.
The states with the highest number of speed-related deaths were:
- California (3081),
- Texas (3071),
- Florida (2558),
- North Carolina (1314),
- and Georgia (1284).
Alaska had the lowest number at 64.
How Does the Speed / Insurance Picture Come Together?
While it would seem undeniable the higher speed limits equate with more deaths, experts say inattention paired with speed is the real culprit in most fatalities.
For insurance purposes, the answer to the “does speed matter” question is actually quite simple. If you get caught and get a ticket, yes. A reputation as a lead-footed driver will result in equally heavy premium rates. There is also, however, clear evidence that at higher rates of speed, you face an increased risk of an auto accident that could kill you.
Bottom line. Slow down, no matter what the law says.