Soon travelers in Texas will be able to drive 85mph, the highest speed limit in the country, between Austin and San Antonio.
The 85mph speed limit for the SH 130 was approved by the Texas Legislature and the Texas Transportation Commission, appointed by Governor Rick Perry, on August 30th.
The Texas Transportation Commission insists that they are cognizant of safety concerns but that the increased speed allows the state to collect more from toll operators. From The Associated Press:
“The state contract with the toll operator allows the state to collect a $67 million up-front cash payment or a percentage of the toll profits in the future if the speed limit is 80 mph or lower. At 85 mph, the cash payment balloons to $100 million or a higher percentage of toll revenues.”
Russ Rader, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said, “The research is clear that when speed limits go up, fatalities go up.” The new speed limit will certainly get travelers to their destinations more quickly, “but the trade-off is more crashes and more highway deaths.”
In response to the trade-off, Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Veronica Beyer says “we must continue to look for innovative ways to generate revenue and be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Safety is our top priority and tests have shown the designated speed is a safe one.”
I imagine that it’s only a matter of time before someone falls asleep at the wheel on cruise control on the new 85mph section of the highway. Are the consequences worth the reward of saving 15 minutes on that commute between Austin and San Antonio?
But if you’re really worried about driving safety, The New York Times just published an infographic plotting miles traveled per capita with auto fatalities per 100,000 people since 1950, which indicates that — among other interesting things — that driving is actually safer than ever. The rapid decline in deaths on the road since 2004 has been attributed to safer vehicles and higher unemployment — less people on the road coupled with stable vehicles equals safer roads.