The Effects of Lifting Speed Limits


There's not a single more maddening thing than sitting in a traffic jam on a hot summer day in your 1997 Toyota Corolla, with leather seats and broken AC. As you sit there wiping the sweat from your brow and wishing for death, you mutter “This is absolutely ridiculous there must be a solution to this madness”. Well there is. Raising or lifting speed limits on highways lowers congestion significantly, keeping traffic moving, and keeping that wind flowing through your window.

Road congestion and traffic are not only annoying, but are harmful to our earth, for instance the Los Angeles Harbor freeway is the worlds 3rd most congested highway. Its estimated that 2.17 million gallons of fuel are wasted every year because of the frequent multi hour long backups. Los Angeles is the United States number one worst air polluted city and thousands of idling cars sitting in traffic everyday keep the smog numbers rising. According to the EPA an average passenger vehicle emits 5.1 metric tons of carbon per year. Once you start putting the pieces together its easy to see why LA has the United States dirtiest air. As if polluting wasn't enough the its estimated that we waste (as a nation) 3.2 billion gallons of gas sitting in traffic per year. That number alone effectively raises our dependency on foreign oil, causing strained relations with oil rich countries and higher prices at the pump for U.S. citizens.

While there may never be a solution for rush hour; raising and or lifting the speed limit on highways all together would result in a higher flow of commuters on highways across the country. Now obviously speed limits are in place for a reason, no one would want someone legally doing 100mph through their suburb but 5 lane highways are made for that sort of thing. In fact the Autobahn in Germany is just that, a speed limitless high way that span for a little under eight thousand miles. The Autobahn has been around since the 1930's and has been updated throughout the years to accommodate faster cars and more traffic. While smaller parts of the autobahn are restricted to as low as 70kmh (around 45mph) the main portion of the highway remains unrestricted. Unrestricted can sometimes be a scary word, but in this case its a good word and one that should be implemented in the U.S. The way the autobahn is driven on is different compared to your average U.S. highway. In the U.S. We have a slow lane farthest to the right, a fast lane farthest to the left and the lanes in between (if there are any) usually drive the speed limit or a few miles per hour above. Now not knowing any different this seems like a fine way to drive, and when you can legally only do 70mph yes it is, but in order to stay safe on speed limitless roads German motorist follow strict guidelines when on the autobahn. For starters the far left lane are for cars that can cruise around 120mph and will be doing so, the middle lanes do around 90mph and the far left lane is mostly used by semi trucks and station wagons towing things. This system allows for a safe environment on the autobahn while still maintaining the option to go as fast as you would like which in turn makes for much less congestion and traffic jams.

Fears arise when talking about lifting speed limits. How will the state make money if they can't give out speeding tickets? Wont people risk death by going so fast? These two questions are solved with one solution. Reduced or limited speed zones are placed along the Autobahn and accompanied by those reduced speed zones are speed cameras. So you'll be flying along at 120mph and sign will warn you reduced speed zone in 1000 meters, then another saying 500 meters, 300 meters, until finally you must slow down and pass through the reduced speed zone at the posted speed. If you choose not to the speed camera will take a picture of your face, and your license plate. You will arrive home thinking “HAHA I beat the system, I didn't get pulled over in that reduced speed area!” then a couple days later a nice $400 dollar ticket will arrive in the mail for you. Yes $400, the reason being is that high speeds can be dangerous and that from time to time you have to slow down for merging traffic or construction zones.

After all these facts have been presented people still like to come up with reasons against raising speed limits. People wonder what happens when someone decides try to go top speed in their Ferrari and they loose control? or what happens when a car going 130 gets a flat tire? These are in fact some common things you could see on the German autobahn, and as scary and real as these accidents are the German autobahn is actually a safer highway than the U.S. Interstate Highway System. According to statistics reported by both countries the U.S. averages 3.62 deaths per billion kilometers traveled on its highway and Germany averages only 1.98 deaths per billion kilometers traveled.

Some positives that have been mentioned throughout this essay include, less overall congestion on the highway during your commutes, higher ticket prices being issued when laws are broken on the highway, the fact that this can be easily implemented onto U.S. highways for very little cost, and best of all it would make the highways a safer place to drive on. All these things have great effects on our economy too, higher ticket prices mean more money going to the government (which we desperately need). Safer roads mean less accidents which helps hospitals stay less congested. Less traffic jams and higher vehicle flow means less smog will be attributed to our depleting ozone and less gas will be wasted, lowering our dependency on foreign oil.

Raising speed limits might be a tough idea to grasp at first, but the benefits that come with it are far greater than most people realize. The autobahn has been around since the 1930's, its about time the U.S. gets one of their own.


      1. Compared death statistics of U.S. highways and Autobahn (website)

      2. Los Angeles Harbor freeway most congested in U.S.

        Dina Spector, November 2011