Reducing speed limits and extensive use of speed camera networks could significantly reduce the high number of road deaths in the US, according to a new Israeli-American study just published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The study was headed by Prof. Elihu Richter of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was jointly undertaken by a team from the Injury Prevention Center at the Braun Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine; the surgical department and trauma center at Hadassah University Medical Center and the University of Illinois School of Public Health.
In 1995, the US abolished the national maximum speed limit on interstate highways, and soon after 32 states increased their speed limits. The result was that road deaths increased by 15% on interstate highways, resulting in more than 450 to 500 more deaths each year). By 2003, most states had increased the rural interstate high speed limit to 75 mph - resulting in a 38% annual increase in road deaths (780 more deaths).
The study recommends a large-scale test of speed camera networks in the US, where small increases in travel speeds resulted in a sustained death toll of more than 42,000 road deaths per year in the 1990s. Speed cameras for detecting and deterring high travel speeds on the roads have rarely been used in the US. But in other countries, notably the UK, Australia and France, they have had a major impact on reducing road death tolls.
The study is also relevant to Israel, where road deaths nationwide increased by 15% after speed limits were raised from 90 to 100 kph on three inter-urban highways in 1993, and the effect has persisted. In the UK, the installation of speed cameras, roundabouts (traffic circles) and other measures in the 1990s reduced the number of road deaths by 33.9%. The reduction of road deaths was similarly high in other countries where speed limits were reduced. Sweden experienced a 21% drop in fatal crashes, while the figure in Denmark dropped by 24%. In the Australian state of Victoria, road deaths have fallen by half in the last 15 years. In Queensland, Australia, 2,500 speed cameras were introduced between 1997 and 2001, resulting in a 31% drop in fatal crashes.
The researchers found that following the introduction of speed cameras in the UK, the fall in case fatality - the percentage of injured who are killed - accounted entirely for the fall in road deaths. The authors ruled out an array of other suspect causes for the UK-US difference, including SUV's, trends in seat belt use, emergency care and in vehicle-miles traveled.
The study says that detection and deterrence of increased speeds would substantially reduce the toll from drinking under influence of alcohol in the US (some 17,000 deaths per year), which itself leads to driving at higher speeds.
If the US had implemented the speed control policies of the UK during the 1990s and had it not raised speed limits, the researchers say there would have been, at the minimum, some 6,500 to 10,000 (16-25%) fewer deaths per year - tolls three to five times that of the 2001 Twin Towers terror attack.