The speed limit is 55 mph on Interstate 294, known locally as the Tri-State Tollway. Drivers obviously thinks that’s just a suggestion. On a recent drive up the Tri-State, I was cruising at 20 miles above the speed limit, yet cars were passing me right and left, giving me a sense of vertigo.
An article in today’s Chicago Tribune reports that traffic fatalities so far this year in the U.S. increased more than 10 percent over the same period of time in 2015. While some of the increase may be due to increased numbers of drivers on the road for longer periods of time, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said that “in 2013 alone, higher speed limits resulted in 1,900 additional deaths.”
A similar decrease in fatalities accompanied the reduction of speed limits in the 1970s, so it seems clear that our need for speed is increasing our risk of dying on the road. I am as guilty as anyone of exploiting the higher speed limits in order to get to my destination faster. But such facts give me pause. How would I feel if I caused injury or death to a loved one in a high speed crash? How would I feel if I harmed a stranger in a crash? Is it really worth it just to shave a few minutes off my drive?
Of course, driving the speed limit on the Tri-State would itself be dangerous, given that cars driving too slow also can cause traffic accidents. You and I can’t do it alone. So it may be time to lower speed limits and ramp up enforcement by police. The life we save may be our own.