The title "Wrong Again" (SCAN, November/December) could apply to your reporting on the abandonment of the National Maximum Speed Limit in 1995. You display ignorance of how to analyze statistics when you assert that recent figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showing a decline in highway fatalities mean that increased speed limits haven't resulted in more traffic deaths.
Annual fatality figures are a composite of many safety issues involving different causes of fatal crashes. Just as a change in the overall stock market does not mean that all stocks changed, changes in national fatality totals or in the fatality rate don't permit conclusions about specific safety issues such as higher speed limits. To determine if increased limits have caused more deaths, one must analyze the roads on which the limits were raised, before and after the limits changed, and not just compare the aggregate number of deaths on the nation's roads.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety performed this type of analysis and found that even on inherently safer interstates in 24 states where the speed limit was increased, deaths increased by 15 percent. Studies in other states have also shown that higher limits lead to more deaths. Minnesota safety officials reported a 66 percent increase in fatalities on roads with raised limits. Fortunately, most states have not yet raised the speed limit on the most dangerous two-lane highways. If they had, the national fatality increase would have approached the worst-case scenario forecasted in 1995 by the NHTSA.
The number of deaths on all roads from 1995-98 has fluctuated slightly and even decreased in '98, but speed is not the only factor affecting the number of highway fatalities. Less drunk driving, more safety-belt and child safety-seat use, and vehicle improvements such as air bags have saved many lives and prevented many injuries. Unfortunately, these safety measures have been offset by the additional lives lost due to increased speeds.
Increased speeds raise the stakes if one makes a driving error. At higher speeds, drivers have less time to react to emergencies or to deal with poor driving conditions. An article inaccurately portraying safety experts as alarmists sends a message to the public that passing dangerous laws and 41,000 deaths on our roads every year are nothing to be concerned about. …