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Interstate crash deaths rose following speed limit increase in Iowa, records say

September 5, 2012

DES MOINES - More people have died on Iowa's interstate highways since the state raised the speed limit to 70 mph, running counter to overall safety statistics on Iowa's road system.

But don't expect the speed limit to change anytime soon, The Des Moines Register reported on Monday.

Gov. Terry Branstad is not planning to propose a reduction in the 70 mph limit, aide Janae Jenison said.

State records show rural interstate fatalities are up 10 percent since the speed limit was raised from 65 to 70 mph in 2005.

The records from the state transportation department show 250 people died on the rural interstate system between July 1, 2005, and Dec. 31, 2011. That compares to 227 deaths for the 6 1/2 years before the increase.

There were 360 people killed on Iowa roads in 2011, the lowest level since World War II.

The increase in Iowa's rural interstate traffic deaths is consistent with other states where speed limits increased, said Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Virginia.

"The bottom line is that when speed limits go up, deaths go up. When speed limits go down, deaths go down," Rader said.

A report by the American Journal of Public Health in 2009 examined the long-term effects of the 1995 repeal of the national speed limit. It found a 3 percent increase nationwide in fatalities attributable to higher speed limits on all road types, with the highest increase of 9 percent on rural interstates.

Col. Patrick Hoye of the Iowa State Patrol said the Iowa statistics bear out warnings by traffic safety planners.

"Any time you raise speeds, an accident has a greater risk for injury and death. The other thing that we see quite often on the interstates is that people are just following too closely, and at higher speeds that just makes the situation that much worse," Hoye said.

The patrol is working with DOT safety planners to reduce fatal crashes, and is targeting problem areas for tougher traffic enforcement, Hoye said.

One area that has received special attention is Interstate 80 in Jasper County, where eight people died in three crashes during a10-day period on 2010.

In each accident, the driver lost control and crossed the median, colliding with oncoming traffic.

The DOT is working to reduce such accidents by installing 227 miles of median barrier cables statewide, including sections of I-80 in Jasper County.



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