Humans are marvelous at self-organization -- it's how we get nomadic tribes and cities like Tokyo, it explains how New Yorkers avoid each other and actually get places on the sidewalks in midtown, and it leads to things like book-of-the-month clubs. It also explains how we avoid accidents at intersections when the red light stops working. Given our choice, we will find ways on our own to live together, mostly safely.

    The blackest and whitest versions of the speed limit debate put "Speed Kills!" on one side and "No it doesn't!" on the other. Because both sides have metric tons of paperwork to prove their positions, the chance that the debate will be settled in our lifetimes is intergalactically remote. A recent speed limit trial in Utah, though, appears to be another scrap of evidence for those on the side of "No it doesn't."

    "The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT)," began an article in TheNewspaper.com, "announced last week that the experimental increase in the state's maximum speed limit to 80 MPH has been a success in terms of safety. UDOT Deputy Director Carlos Braceras testified before the state Interim Committee on Transportation that that there has been no increase in accidents as a result of the higher number printed on the speed limit signs on certain stretches of Interstate 15."

    Barring any other considerations, a speed limit is determined by studying the behavior of 85% of traffic over a given stretch of road. That 85th percentile is given credit for self-organizing into a group that moves at the safest and most efficient speed. There doesn't appear to be any clear-cut study that proves this, but it has been gospel for so long that it is now the precedent for deciding limits, and in some instances, court cases.

    The UDOT measured the speed of that 85th percentile before and after raising the limit. When the maximum allowable speed was 75 mph, it reported most drivers doing between 81 and 85 mph. Given another five miles an hour to legally play with, a year of observation found that most drivers doing between 83 and 85 mph. The vehicular carnage that some suspected didn't materialize, nor did drivers automatically begin driving 90 or 95 mph. As was the case before the limit was raised, people liked going about 85 on the stretches of road in question. They probably also enjoyed not getting tickets for it.

    Without taking sides, Utah's findings do match recent findings and decisions in other states. When the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) studied speed limits on six sections of roads it maintains, it changed the speed limits on five of them: one saw a decrease of 5 mph, the other four were increased from 5 to 10 mph.

    When Montana had no daytime speed limit, fatalities not only went down but Montana recorded the state's fewest road fatalities during that period. Internationally, the number of fatalities per billion vehicle kilometers has been higher in the U.S. for about the past seven years than anywhere in Western Europe except for Ireland. Even Germany and its unrestricted autobahn suffer fewer injury incidents than the U.S.

    Outside of the safety issue, some folks have chosen to see Utah's DOT results as proof that higher limits mean less speeding. That could be cheating a bit by using a relative definition of speeding -- people didn't actually slow down, the law just happened to catch up to them. Almost.

    It could be more informative to see the issues of speeding and safety as follow-on effects of the widely held but as-yet-unproved instinct at work: 85% of people found a speed range at which they can drive mostly safely. And as that range didn't really change after the posted limit was changed, we can assume that the instinct for a safe speed has nothing to do with what the posted and enforced speed limit happens to be.

    People want to get where they're going quickly and alive. If the powers that be would set limits more in accordance with that fact, perhaps the national blood pressure – and that of drivers – would flow more efficiently and just as safely. At least, it wouldn't hurt to try it out here and there.

    It gets back to that self-organizing thing we've been perfecting for thousands of years. As a herd, we will find ways on our own to live together, mostly safely. Even in the fast lane.

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    1 - 20 of 211 Comments
    manishbqa Dec 16, 2010 6:37 AM
    I don't like much speed
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    lsawallish Nov 17, 2009 11:41 AM
    If speed kills than everyone who flies in an airplane should be dead. If speed kills only in an automobile than all those Germans on autobahn should be dead. Speed does not kill! Inept drivers and our unorganized system of driving does kill. Drive on the autobahn in the left lane at less than the speed of the fast driver behind you and you will get a citation. We should have laws in the USA that compel drivers to yield to faster moving traffic by moving to the farthest right lane. In addition we should insist that all drivers obtain training in high speed driver skills and be certified or be remanded to slow speed roads.
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    socalrmairtrnsam Nov 09, 2009 6:39 PM
    it only takes one time where you need more than your measely 67 HP to get you killed, sailthesewers!! good luck with that!! Or just have fun waiting all day to make a left turn onto a busy blvd.!!
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    socalrmairtrnsam Nov 09, 2009 6:08 PM
    lets see the japs match the new '10 Camaro V6's 304 HP/29 MPG highway combination! crapota's Scion division has their little 4- banger coupe that has only 161 HP and only gets 27 MPG highway!! less gas mileage with barely over half the HP!! oh what a feeling!! I think you would have to step up to an $80K Mercedes, BMW, or Audi to even come close to the Camaro's combo!!
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    socalrmairtrnsam Nov 09, 2009 3:43 PM
    most people don't give a crap about the supposed 'most fuel efficient' sailingthesewers, because it's all relative to size and weight! hell, my go-cart wins, but you can't tow or haul anything with it or race a full-size car/truck/SU&V with it, or carry 9 passengers like the Cadillac Escalade hybrid that still has 400 HP!
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    socalrmairtrnsam Nov 09, 2009 3:39 PM
    sailingthesewers, you seem to ASSUME a lot, thus making an a*s out of yourself!!
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    luisblanco81 Nov 09, 2009 3:13 PM
    Listen, there are many determining factors involved in accidents and fuel consumption. And although this article concentrates on accidents alone, the penny pinchers are re-directing the topic of discussion to fuel. This is what those people don't understand. While YOU may be getting better fuel economy (or not) by traveling a certain speed, and please feel free to do so when the opportunity is there, doing so when there is moderate traffic causes all the other motorists around you to waste more fuel, increasing the amount of fuel we use as a nation by a large margin. You are NOT a pace car and it is NOT your job to police the roads. You are the one that is being inconsiderate. If they want to risk getting a ticket let them, it's not your job to slow them down. I drive an average of 70 on just about every parkway or interstate. They are all designed with a margin of safety, meaning you can safely navigate the turns at a much higher rate of speed than what is posted. In most cases at least double. I hardly ever encounter aggressive drivers and I live in NY. You can see a rapidly approaching car in your mirrors with enough time to move out of their way. Regardless of their speed. All you have to do is look in that little square shiny thingy hanging on the inside of your windshield. So I beg you to ask yourself this question. If you are constantly encountering agressive drivers or constantly being tailgated, considering that every time it happens it is a different driver, than the only constant is YOU. I've travelled roads ranging from 45mph-75mph speed limits at all different times. The roads with the higher speed limits ALWAYS have less congestion, which increases overall fuel economy and guess what, it even reduces accidents. The reason being that most accidents involve more than one car even if only one car crashed. Higher speeds mean less traffic formations (cars grouped together) and less chances for outside variables. And please stop with the physics lessons people, there isn't any space in those formulas for inputing stupidity.
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    sailingtheoceans Nov 09, 2009 11:38 AM
    I guess AOL doesn't want anyone to know which is the most fuel efficient car... Must be owned by 'BIG OIL', LOL. the H*O*N*D*A I*N*S*I*G*H*T Wins!!!
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    sailingtheoceans Nov 09, 2009 11:34 AM
    ...And, for anyone that's wondering, my car is a 1st generation Honda ************* the most fuel efficient gas burning car EVER made!! It is also speed limited to 113mph (though I haven't taken it that high, yet) and it has no problem accellerating to freeway speeds, albeit slightly slower than most cars (0-60 is 10.4secs rated). I would rather look 'gay' (as I have been told) than to look like an a**hol*!!!
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    sailingtheoceans Nov 09, 2009 11:25 AM
    I find it interesting that Jomarex has now been accused of voting for Bush and Obama... Seems the crazies spread the political gamut. It also seems that socalrmairtrnsam is seriously compensating for his lack of manhood with horsepower. I have been on both sides of the debate, as I used to consistently go 10-15mph over the posted on all streets (city and highway). I wanted to ram all the idiots that went the speed limit (or, God forbid, slower) off the road and shoot out all their tires. I had to be the fastest car on the road, the 'leader of the pack'. I noticed that within a few years most of the other cars were going as fast as me, so I needed to go faster. I was 'The Joanses' that everyone was trying to keep up with. Talk about being stressed?!? Then, one day I decided to try the speed limit for a change (had something to do with getting pulled over for speeding...). After I stopped being pissed off about getting a ticket, I realized that I was MUCH less stressed out. Life was easier to enjoy. I learned to enjoy the journey more than the destination. My first car had a 320hp 5.7L v8, just like socalrmairtrnsam's (though mine was an Olds 350ci, none of this Liter crap). My 2nd car had 150hp (this is the car that I changed my driving habits in). My current car has 67hp, which is still more than I need most of the time. At 80-85mph (I RARELY drive that fast) I get 60-65mpg. At 55-60mph I get 90-110mpg. On a 10.5gal tank I regularly get 800-900 miles. In a race against socalrmairtrnsam's "ram air Trans Am" (guess), he would win a sprint. If I were to race him from SoCal to Florida (or even New Mexico), me at the speed limit and him however fast he chose to go, my money would be on myself. Even if he didn't get into an accident on his way, the stops for gas alone would more than make up the difference in speed. I would fear his reaction at the finish line when he found out that he lost to 1/5 of his horsepower though... Based on his irrational responses to the comments here, I would assume he is a perfect example of road rage. I know that there is VERY little chance of changing socalrmairtrnsams mind on the way that he drives, but I will leave him with this: Just as you feel that you have the right to drive at 10-15mph or more over the speed limit in the fast lane, Jomarex has as much (and legal) right to go 10-15mph UNDER the limit in the slow lane.
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    socalrmairtrnsam Nov 09, 2009 5:44 AM
    jamorextard, if you were at a red light and in your rear view mirror you saw a car or truck locked up and sliding out-of-control towards you, wouldn't you run the red to get the f*ck out of the way??!!! You bet your a*s you would, and so would everyone else!! Do the same with the big rigs, speed up and get the f*ck out of their way!! You might just save your own life someday, or maybe not!! I bet you voted for our idiot pres. nobama bin laden?!!
    Report This
    socalrmairtrnsam Nov 09, 2009 5:40 AM
    * the new Z06 Vette that is and the ***** is 175 MPH, don't know why they edited THAT?!!
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    socalrmairtrnsam Nov 09, 2009 5:38 AM
    when i used to visit family that i have in southern Illinois, just east of St. Louis, my sister would always get entangled within the big rigs going to and from the airport (there used to be one point on I-70 where they would have the big rigs switch to the left lane)!! That was the most dangerous freakin thing you can EVER do!! I used to yell at her, 'put the hammer down and get the f*ck out here!!' And by the way, if you're agile enough like myself and my car, you don't have to be aggressive, i just drive around most situations that arise!! My tires are rated ****** MPH and the top speed of my car is ATLEAST 165 MPH (i've had it up to that at the track!), so when i hold it to 110 MPH or less, i think i'm being pretty damn restrained!! Another thing, in 6th gear at 80-85 MPH my RPMs are less than when i'm going 60MPH in 5th gear!! and at 80-85 MPH in 6th gear i still get 26 MPG with a 320 HP 5.7 liter V8!! and that's in my '98!! The Vette has 505 HP and a 7.0 liter V8 that gets 25 MPG highway!!
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    socalrmairtrnsam Nov 09, 2009 5:27 AM
    The reason why people go a little faster is, unlike yourself, people actually need to get where they're going in a timely manner!! For truckers, time IS MONEY!! a trucker that only takes 4 days to get across the country is going to make a sh*tload more than a trucker that takes 7 days!!! hell, according to you, it's all unsafe, lets all drive across the country going 25 MPH and have it take 15 days!!! If that happened, i'm sure you would be the first to complain about store shelves being empty and all the produce rotten!!!
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    jomarex Nov 08, 2009 10:27 AM
    I used to love to drive. And no, it's not just because I'm older. I still love to drive when there's not much traffic on the road, because then people are *somewhat* less likely to be rude and belligerent like bellered and socalrmairtrnsam. About in the last 10 yrs., what used to be a once-in-a-blue-moon stupidity has become commonplace. Then, when someone drove on your bumper, it was a surprise, and it wasn't hard to get them to back off. Now, "aggression" is the mode of choice for seemingly the majority of Americans, on the road and everywhere else. Aggression is not good, people. Those of you who were weaned on the GREED that gave rise to all this broad-based AGGRESSION grew up with the notion that meanness and rudeness are the best way to get what you want in life (money being the "most important"...). You think the best way is to bully your way to wealth, any human kindness be damned. That bully attitude of course carries over into your driving. There is just no way that you would ever consider looking out for your fellow driver, since that might mean they could gain some advantage over you... What?! What good does it do ANYbody when half the people on the roads are convinced that there's something to be gained by all these drivers trying to each one prove that they are the King of the Road? Everybody loses, everybody gets even more angry and aggressive and when they finally get to their destination, that anger goes ahead and carries over into everything else they do.
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    jomarex Nov 08, 2009 9:59 AM
    1. Emergency vehicles do not intentionally try to mow down cars on the road. 2. Emergency vehicles have a legitimate reason for driving faster than everybody else. Big Rigs most certainly do not.
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    jomarex Nov 08, 2009 9:58 AM
    Yeah, you're reeeeel smart, socalrmairtrnsam... Anybody who doesn't drive way over the speed limit is just a bad driver... So, Your Highness, what speed may I drive on your highways today? I wait with bated breath to find out what the proper speed is, since I haven't enough intelligence to decide for myself, and of course those silly Speed Limit signs are completely arbitrary and don't mean anything at all. And I know from experience that you in your infinite wisdom would never allow for anyone to slow down in case of rain, or debris on the road, or especially not for some vehicle that was having mechanical problems! Oh my goodness! If some idiot has a car that just won't go at least 25 mph over the speed limit, or if they're so stupid as to drive at the posted speed limit (thereby avoiding expensive tickets as well as cutting way down on risk of accidents), why then we all agree that they should just not be allowed to drive on Your highways! And they certainly shouldn't be allowed to slow down and stop tailgating when they get off the highway and onto the residential streets, 'cause they might get in the way of someone who has a desperate need (meaning they don't want to lose any precious second even if it means the lives of children and other animals).
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    socalrmairtrnsam Nov 08, 2009 5:25 AM
    when you are driving faster, you naturally have a heightened sense of awareness!! nobody's gonna fall asleep at the wheel at 100+ MPH!!
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    socalrmairtrnsam Nov 08, 2009 2:30 AM
    ........and you need to ALWAYS get the f*ck out of the way of big rigs, no matter what you have to do!! wouldn't you do the same for any emergency response vehicle?!! stay safe and speed up to get away from big rigs or get the f*ck off the road, period!!!
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    socalrmairtrnsam Nov 08, 2009 2:27 AM
    jomarex, you are timid, worthlees, and weak!! I can see it now, you drive around scared, trying not to get hit!! That's because you have no confidence in your driving ability, much like most inexperienced 16 year-olds- atleast the first few times they drive!! Being a scared and incompetent driver will get you killed 10 times faster than any type of speeding!! Do you realize, out here, no matter how fast you are going, if you're impeding 5 or more vehicles on a 2 lane highway, you're supposed to pull over and let them pass?! ANY driving school or traffic school instructor will tell you your accelerator is the best piece of safety equipment you have! You should try to accelerate out and/or around a situation rather than just stomp on the brakes and hope for the best!! another thing, i will out-drive you any day with ANY car, especially you in your tin can daewoo!!
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    1 - 20 of 211 Comments
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    Please keep your comments relevant to the Utah: Increasing Speed Limits Doesn't Kill article.
    Utah tests a speed limit increase to 80 MPH and finds no real negative effects from the increase.


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