Earlier this year, the Texas Transportation Commission approved higher speed limits for some Texas roads. This Wednesday marks the opening of a new, 40-mile stretch of Texas Highway 130 toll road with the nation’s highest speed limit: 85 miles per hour. While State officials say they are not worried about increased danger, many others are skeptical about the dangers the increased speed limit has in store for Texas motorists.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the top speed limit in 35 states is at least 70 miles per hour, compared to Texas and Utah which top the list at 80 miles per hour. While most states have gradually raised speed limits in recent years, Texas is not wasting any time. Since 2002, the Texas Department of Transportation has raised the speed limit to 75 or 80 miles per hour on nearly 6,507 miles of road, with most of the increases taking place since 2011. On approximately 1 in 12 miles of Texas roadway, motorists may now legally travel at speeds once considered excessive and dangerous.
Safety experts in the United States and Europe warn that the increased speed limit will simultaneously lead to an increase in automobile related injuries and fatalities. In 2011, Texas’ fatality rate was already higher than the national average, with 3,015 people killed on Texas roads. According to many experts, drivers routinely choose a speed, ranging from 5 to 10 mph over the posted speed limit, at which they think they are unlikely to get a speeding ticket. With the new 85 mph speed limit, experts predict that drivers who are already accustomed to driving faster than the posted speed limit will routinely reach speeds of 100 mph or faster.
Despite overwhelming skepticism, state officials say they do not necessarily expect more carnage. On the contrary, officials point to statistics showing that fatalities are declining along some West Texas Highways that were the first to get the higher speed limits. In addition, state law requires the Transportation Department to perform a speed study before raising the speed limit on Texas roadways. State officials say that their methods of studying a road before raising the speed limit are scientifically sound. Less certain is whether motorists have the proper training, or the self-discipline, to drive safely on a high-speed road.
State officials say they are in the process of developing ways to promote better driving habits. For instance, this past week, the Transportation Department began installing 3,400 signs reading “Left lane for passing only” on highways with a speed limit of 75 mph or greater. According to Bill Meadows, a Texas Transportation Commission member, Texans will have to learn “how to drive these safer speeds.”