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In 2015, Wisconsin raised the speed limit on most interstate highways to 70 mph. More than a year later, we know that this increase has made transportation more convenient and efficient, but how has the change affected safety on some of the state's busiest roads?
The short version: it's not good. Since the change went into effect, there has been not only a rise in the numbers of accidents and injuries on these highways, but also a significant jump in the number of fatalities that occur in these accidents.
A recent examination of the numbers by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and a look at fatality reports provided by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation reveal that in the one-year span between June 1, 2015, and May 30, 2016:
The Journal Sentinel does point out that it is difficult, if not impossible, to blame the higher speed limit for these increased numbers due to the variety of other factors that contribute to these accidents. These factors include distracted driving, an increase in teen drivers and even lower gas prices.
Further complicating the interpretation of this data is the fact that fatalities have increased nationally in 2016. This is true in states with the same speed limit as Wisconsin as well as those with differing laws regarding interstate speed restrictions.
Early data provided by the National Safety Council (NSC) shows that there has been a 9 percent increase in motor vehicle-related deaths in the United States in 2016. This continues an upward trend that began in (2015, when fatalities were up 8 percent over 2014.
While Wisconsin has, thankfully, not been affected by this increase in fatalities as much as states such as Florida, Georgia, Indiana and California (all had 30-plus percent increases statewide, not just on interstate highways), the jump that we're seeing this year is extremely concerning.
Whether or not the higher speed limit on Wisconsin's interstates is the key cause of the increase in accidents, the fact that accidents and fatalities have increased needs to be addressed. It remains to be seen if this means scaling back the speed limit, imposing harsher consequences for texting and driving or any other course of action. But the danger is real, and something must be done to prevent the fatality and injury rate from continuing to climb even higher.
Until a broader answer to reducing the fatality rate is discovered, here are some things that you and your family can do to stay safe on the road: