Study Reveals Shocking News: People Ignore The Speed Limit

from the they-needed-a-study-for-that? dept

For those of you who never have actually been in a car, some researchers have now revealed the obvious: most drivers are comfortable ignoring the speed limit. Of course, what’s more interesting is the theory for the reason behind this: it’s an unintended consequence of the decision by the federal government to mandate a nationwide 55mph speed limit back in 1974. Setting such an artificially low speed limited basically made people realize that speed limits had little, if any, relationship to actual safety regulations, and felt more comfortable trusting their own judgment in terms of what speed was safe for driving. Thus, now, even if speed limits were set to match safety levels, many people would still ignore them because they’ve learned that speed limits are somewhat meaningless. Yet another example of unintended consequences that result from bad legislation.

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Comments on “Study Reveals Shocking News: People Ignore The Speed Limit”

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Charming Charlie says:

“Artificially low speed”

Have you actually looked into the rationale of the “federal government” instituting a nationwide speed limit of 55mph?

I think one reason for what you consider a slow speed would be fuel economy. Then there is road maintinence. Saftey is not the only factor which governs the rules of the road

Also, the speed on the interstate in Oregon is 65mph in most parts.

anonymous coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

it is not the north ‘half’. salem and portland hardly constitute half of the state. there is a lot more to oregon than portland and salem. eugene is closer to the half way point and all you have is about 10 miles there where it is 55. medford is 55 for a little ways. but the rest of the 300 plus miles it is 65.

Qothe says:

Re: Charming Charlie

“Artificially low speed”, “Also, the speed on the interstate in Oregon is 65mph in most parts.”

I think you need to read the paragraph again, it says
“it’s an unintended consequence of the decision by the federal government to mandate a nationwide 55mph speed limit back in “1974”.”
Obviously this is not in effect any longer, as you pointed out, you can drive 65 in some places, in utah most of the interstate is 75.

the resulting mentality of the people to ignore the limits is natural. if my boss tells me that i walk to my cubicle very slowly because he thinks we’re going too fast, then i am much less likely to take him seriously. if you give stupid rules, people stop listening.

ehrichweiss says:

Re: Re:

No, fuel economy wasn’t a real factor. There are a number of cars that perform better around 80mph than 55mph. This changed once the auto industry started matching the 55mph limit with their power curve/gear ratios.

Also, the speed on most interstates in any state is usually 65mph or more, not just Oregon.

AnnonUSA says:

Re: Speed

The whole fuel economy part of 55MPH is the most ill quoted fact. Safety should be the priority, but it is not. Nor is fuel economy. Residential area limits (25 to 35 MPH) may be in place for Safety reasons, but I have seen plenty of areas marked artificially low for conditions. Most speed limits are designed for one reason, revenue. Law enforcement revenue, road tax. Plain and simple.

Bryan says:

People Ignore The Speed Limit

Some thoughts:

I regularly drive 55 in 65 zones. I measure my gas mileage, and correlate with different speeds I’ve driven. Slower means better mileage. The difference can be up to 36%. Thats the difference between 440 miles and 600 miles on a tank of gas.

OTOH, when you drive slowly, you’re in your car longer. I figured out that I was making something like $3/hour by driving slowly. If I’m driving to work, then logically I should drive as fast as I can, since my time at work is more cost effective. But I don’t.

Teaching myself to religiously follow every traffic was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. If you like a challenge, you should try it.

ehrichweiss says:

Re: People Ignore The Speed Limit

“Slower means better mileage”

That is an untruth!! Smoother driving means better mileage. That’s why “highway” mileage is significantly better than “city” mileage. I can drive at 80mph without braking and get significantly better mileage than you will at 35mph with constant start/stop traffic.

Also, vehicles with overdrive(or a 6th gear) that kicks in around 65mph will tend to outperform your slow driving as well.

move over, dumbass! says:

Re: People Ignore The Speed Limit

And that’s why you are a safety hazard who should not be allowed to drive. All you precious fuel savings are going to be eaten up when someone in this litigatious society driving at the legal limit rear-ends you and they (or their survivors) sue you (or your survivors) for causing the wreck.

TGIF says:

Cheers Big Ears

I remember when the speed limit was 70 most places and even 75 in some. Those were the days eh. But then came the rising price of gasoline and the gvt wanted to look like they were doing something, which led to Sammy Hagar and “I cant drive 55”. That was a long time ago and one would think that we would’ve learned something from it all, but I guess not. Just yesterday I read that the lowering price of gas has lead to an increase in SUV sales. Reminds me of AC/DC “Highway to Hell”

Freedom says:

Reality Check...

The laws need to be changed to drive at a safe and reasonable speed which should be determined by the average speed of REAL/LIVE traffic and not some engineering study.

Instead we get increased enforcement with photo radar and the like which is going to cause more accidents, not less (panic last minute slowing, night time flashes, and if they get their wish reduced average driving speed which will lead to less focused/bored drivers).

I can’t think of ANY GOOD REASON for the system we have and people have put up with it because of random selection enforcement has only been an nuisance. Now though we are seeing more photo cameras then ever. In Phoenix, AZ there are over 7 photo cameras on the main freeway(s) that you’ll pass on an average commute. That means that one bad morning commute will cost you around $1,400 worth of fine with never being pulled over and with no indication during the day that you’ve broken the law until the tickets come in the mail. I can’t imagine that after the massive amount of folks get caught in this BS net that this will be politically viable for long.


Something to ponder…

Everyone has an internal wealth set point (think about it, we all get to a certain place in our lives and are happy with it and aren’t really willing to work harder to get more. If you go below it, you’ll work extremely hard to get back to it and if you exceed it you’ll stop working very hard at all).

Why is this important? Because it shows that by giving a person with less means money doesn’t mean that you’ve increased their wealth or status. What you’ve done is just removed their desire to work to meet their own set point. In short, you’ve made them lazy and in the long run worse off and more reliant on handouts. If you truly want to help someone, help them change their set point but never give them just money without a plan for changing their set point. That my friends is true charity.

Red says:

Who makes the laws?

Is it interesting to anyone else that those that make these laws do not follow them? People writing these laws will never have to follow them. Their chauffeurs may have to be concerned with it or their children may have to worry, but THEY will never deal with their laws.
I live in a small town and most of the officers in the town do not follow the speed limits, turn signals don’t seem to be important, stop signs and red lights are not indicative of a requirement, but more so a suggestion. However, if you or I does anything, they will be on us like the IRS. Is it just me or does anyone else see the same thing? Maybe it is just an observation from an observant person.

NullOp says:

Speed Limits

You and the researchers are correct, unfortunately. Expecting people to observe the speed limit is about as realistic as expecting someone in a Lexus to NOT park in the handicapped space close to the door of the grocery store. Duh!

The trouble comes when people drive as fast as they think is safe. A good number of drivers think they are safe, its all those other people causing the trouble. None of them realize when they get on the road they become part of a system. And their actions effect everyone. Studies have been done on compaction waves in traffic caused by drivers grouping and tapping their brakes.

So, the government can set whatever limits they like but people are going to think for themselves. And thats where the trouble begins.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think safety for speed limits is at the bottom of the list. I know of a road around me that used to be 55, but when they re-paved it for the rich people building homes near there, it was reduced to 40. You know the funny thing about that is, they made the road almost completely straight where as before it was winding and having turns at 30 all over the place (when it was still 55.)

The old road is still in place by the way, and now that people know it’s become mostly useless and police never enforce it, it’s not out of the ordinary to see someone go down it at 80 to get in front of traffic at a later intersection of the two roads.

cooper007 says:

Something missing here is the soft limits posted in most places. Many area officers will allow 5-8 mph over the posted limit before stopping you. A few places will stop you at 2 over the limit and they become known and people do not speed in those areas.
I have heard officers comment that the limit should be posted at what is the most common self imposed speed limit (or 2 over), and make it the limit…no soft over speed allowed….and I agree.

ie: Interstate Hwy drivers self imposed avg 73 so post at 75mph limit.

This allows officers to give tickets that are due and not spend the day in court arguing that it was not significantly over the posted limit, or the driver was just following traffic flow.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Speed limits on Interstates

So if the road has a speed less than 85, does the state DOT still receive federal funds for maintaining that road?

I understand that many roads have lower speeds under the guise of safety, but there seem to be some where the speeds are artificially lowered for one reason or another- such as this 4 mile straight stretch near me with no houses, no lighting, tumbleweed, deer and foxes running around, but for some reason the local government believes 40 is what the road was engineered for. Normally this wouldn’t raise eyebrows, but every day, there’s a few cops looking for speeders. Later, I was surprised to learn the cops refer to it as “Revenue Alley”. I’d like some engineering justification to that lowered speedlimit also!

Frosty840 says:

I have been to exactly one country where I have seen the speed limit observed.


Every road in THE WHOLE OF IRELAND, barring a couple of short highways around Dublin is single-carriageway. This means that you can’t overtake anything anywhere in the entire country.

So you end up with two-mile-long queues of insanely frustrated, bored drivers following around all the sociopaths who actually keep to the country’s 50mph speed limit.

Ireland is an awesome country full of wonderful people and amazing places, but there’s no way I will ever go back after having driven there.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Traffic Engineering

The science of traffic engineering seems to be full of counterintuitive results that turn out to be experimentally true. Like the fact that putting a speed limit on a road that didn’t have one before can actually improve traffic flow.

Also I remember a study from my younger days that said the safest speed to travel at was actually a little faster than the traffic average.

Paul says:

Right idea, wrong conclusion

People have been ignoring speed limits for a lot longer than the national 55 mph speed limit, not because a reactionary bent to government regulation, but because they like driving fast, they are in a hurry, they don’t pay attention, and a thousand other PERSONAL reasons. This article is typical of junk analysis with an agenda that tries to pass itself off as journalism and real research.

John says:

Re: Right idea, wrong conclusion

Finally some rational thought. Speeding is not due to some populist reaction to undue government regulation. Yes this article is based on someone’s agenda and it should not be trusted.

Among the thousands of personal reasons for speeding is the fact that in most places, you can get by with a lot of it some of the time, and in other places, you can get by with a little of it all of the time. People naturally push “the real limit.”

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Right idea, wrong conclusion

People have been ignoring speed limits for a lot longer than the national 55 mph speed limit, not because a reactionary bent to government regulation, but because they like driving fast, they are in a hurry, they don’t pay attention, and a thousand other PERSONAL reasons.

No one said that everyone obeyed the speedlimit prior to this. What the researchers noted was that *after* the national speedlimit was instituted, it became that nearly everyone began to realize that the speedlimit was just a guideline. Prior to that many more people actually trusted it to be meaningful.

Reading comprehension is a wonderful thing.

This article is typical of junk analysis with an agenda that tries to pass itself off as journalism and real research.

Fascinating, considering that the “analysis” came from a civil engineering and economics professor, not any reporter (or myself). So, you can pick nits with the *research* but blaming us for pointing out what the professor said is pretty weak.

rec9140 (user link) says:

Speed Limits, law, and revenue

Speed limits are number one, a REVENUE GENERATION SOURCE.

They are there to generate money from fines. Yes it is illegal to set “quotas” on tickets, BUT it is legal to collect data on the number of tickets issued and then in some back room discipline for failure to perform duty adequately. You think it doesn’t happen, your dreaming. You write tickets or else!

As for “soft limits” the limits are there for the technology used to detect the speed. In places like the entire state of PA. LOCAL (ie: city, borough, township, village, etc.) police are NOT authorized to use radar or lidar, ONLY the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) can use “electronic speed detection.” Now what they are allowed to use is: VASCAR (nothing more than a stopwatch really, more on this in a momemnt) , Accutrax (also nothing more than a stopwatch really), pacing.

VASCAR when it first came out required the use of two rubberized contacts placed on the road similar to those you may still see for traffic surveys or that in the past activated the bell at the full serve gas station (something most here, unless your from OR or NJ don’t have any more or never even heard of) you drive across it and it measured the time and displayed a speed based on x distance. Later versions of VASCAR retired the hoses, and became more and more “electronic” in nature. PA still insists that VASCAR meets the state law on prohibiting “electronic speed detection” by any one other than PSP. The local’s have tried several times to change this, and went down in flames each time. Thats what all the white lines are plastered all over the local roads in PA. Some use other colors, may not use full lines across the road.

The soft limit from 5-10 MPH over the limit is due to the error factor of radar, lidar, pacing, VASCAR, accutrax etc.. Its not really to give a 5-10MPH tack on to the posted limits. The only legal defense that any one has on speed detection devices is the LACK OF CALIBRATION of the unit, persons doing the calibration etc.. PA requires that VASCAR and Accutrax be calibrated, failure to keep them up and you can’t use them to issue tickets! Radar is the same. There are also specific points as to when you can issue tickets based on the speed limit ie: at 55+ its 2MPH PLUS the 5-10MPH error factor. At 35 its 5+EF. Each area this varies. Some there is no fudge factor. I am sure everyone has heard of Waldo FL, where the posted speed limit in the whole town is 25MPH, and speeding is 24MPH! Seriously! Its a way to make $$$$ plain and simple.

There also is a problem with all the PITA’s that want some six lane major roadway to be 35 or even less. Because of the “children.” Oh, puhlease. Or the some back country road that has all the little yuppies move in and was once 60-70MPH now is 45-50. Been there…. road I travel started as posted as 70, then 65, then 60, now it down to 45-50 in some areas. Cross the county line 70! And its still mostly rural farm land… but a few yuppies and the place goes to pot.

This country needs to get out of the traffic enforcement, especially on speed limits, business and get back to work on real crimes, or actually preventing crime by patrolling rather than sitting around 5-10 at a time in a speed trap. Waste of tax money. A marked unit patrolling areas can do more to PREVENT CRIME than anything.

Jay says:

Re: Speed Limits, law, and revenue

In the state of Indiana, it is not illegal for quotas on tickets. As a matter of fact some towns in Indiana run on a quota system. The officers actually get bonuses for being over their quota. Theoretically it was to combat the fact that officers were not doing anything at all, but this is way out of hand and has the potential for corruption by making up incidents just to fill their quota and falsely accusing people for things they did not do. Luckily in recent years I don’t have to travel in those towns. But the seed is there blossming in state legislature, all it takes is one misguided fool with enough power to make it law.

speed doesn't kill, the sudden stop does says:

This is news? I remember studying this in university social pyschology and ergonomics classes in the 80s, even before the national 55 MPH speed limit was repealed. The mojority of people generally drive at what they feel is a safe speed, regardless of posted limits. There are documented case studies where most traffic flow is actually UNDER the speed limit, e.g. driving 40 through a residential area where the limit is 50, because that is the speed at which people feel safe.

Kent says:

Wow 47 comments.

my two cents: In most states, the speed limit for a road (and this applies almost absolutely to cautionary signs for bends and blind hills etc) are carefully determined by traffic safety engineers.

The reason most speed limits seem “artificially low” is because they’re calculated for the maximum safe speed of a heavy truck or POS car with POS brakes and relatively poor maneuverability.

Maximum safe speed is derived usually from two main factors: 1)Will X vehicle be able to maintain traction around a bend, over a hill, on a ramp? and 2) In the case of an area with bad visibilty, will X vehicle be able to stop or safely maneuver before hitting something (fully stopped car, child, moose) in the road on the other side of the hill/around the bend.

Dan says:


When the gas prices were in the $4 range, lots of people complained about how much it cost to drive. I think what most people were really bugged about is that they had to slow down! Now that gas is in the $2 range, everyone is happy they can afford to speed now! Speed limit in San Diego, ca is easily 75-80mph and higher! Way scary! And to see a car pulled over for speeding is very rare. I drive 3 freeways a day, and I can go weeks without seeing any cops. I am sure the city would get millions if they just enforced the laws.

Ranzear (profile) says:

Speed != Mileage

Speed is not immediately relevant to highway mileage. There are plenty of small cars that get their best mileage around and upwards of 70mph. Any small, lightweight, aerodynamic vehicle of the mid ’90s and, for example, Saturn’s S-Series. My ’96 S-Series would get 35mpg at 60mph, but was actually geared well enough to attain 40+mpg at roughly 75-77mph, just over the posted limit. This is a matter of Brake Specific Fuel Consumption (BSFC), the amount of fuel required to produce a given power output. The engine of this particular car more efficiently makes the power required for 77mph at the given 3100rpm gearing than the power to maintain 60mph at a less desirable 2300rpm. This raises the same misconception that higher RPM means more fuel consumption, whereas the fuel consumption and efficiency varies greatly, and being too low in RPM is just as detrimental to efficiency as being too high, ‘off the cam’ would be the jargon.

Did you know many racecars get better mileage at 9000 RPM and peak power than most street vehicles at their best?

Stop beating it about that every vehicle on the highway would get better mileage at a lower speed. This may be true for your 4800 pound 7′ high SUV (ironically while you flog ‘better mileage’), but is entirely not the case for my vehicle better matched to my needs and desired performance.

I, personally, determine what speed within a given range of the posted speed limit puts me as far as possible from anyone else on the highway. To say they’re ‘more like guidelines anyway’ would be particularly descriptive of the habits of most Washington* drivers, where 7-9 over 60 is completely the norm for flowing traffic (but so is 14 for not-so-flowing). Oregon drivers, on the contrary, drive me absolutely insane because they insist on maintaining the speed limit in the left lane while attempting to pass someone doing only slightly less than the speed limit in the lane adjacent. Please: Just do whats conducive to traffic flow.

*The state you ninny.

nasch says:

Re: Speed != Mileage

Did you know many racecars get better mileage at 9000 RPM and peak power than most street vehicles at their best?

Name two! No, wait – one! One race car that gets better than, say, 22 mpg when running at or around 9000 rpm. I’d say that’s a pretty pessimistic estimate of “most street vehicles at their best”. Fuel mileage is important for many kinds of racing, but they’re usually looking to boost mileage from 4.5 mpg to 4.6, or something along those lines. Race cars generally have really poor fuel economy compared to road cars, for (should be) obvious reasons. The Audi R10 TDI is the only thing that could come close, and while I couldn’t quickly find mileage data for it, IIRC even that was well under 20.

Twinrova says:

Well, of course they do! Who enforces speed limits anymore?

Personal observation has shown there is no longer enforcement on speed, but instead, focus has shifted on reckless driving. There’s a huge difference.

Most police officers know cars traveling at 70mph will cause more damage should an accident occur, but also realize most of the accidents on the road are caused by factors unrelated to speed, but instead, poor judgment.

Shifting lanes without signaling, braking hard, following too closely, and the top of the list, environmental conditions is what kills. Speed just makes it look worse.

I’ve always been a speeder because I know what the limitations of my car is. I know the inherent risk should something “jump out” at me. But I also know people are worse than these risks moreso.

I always stay in the left lane. ALWAYS. The only time I move over is when someone needs to pass me. But it’s these assholes who risk my life as well as others by tailgating me because I can’t move over fast enough for them. I don’t speed up to move over for them, so they’ll just have to wait until I’m clear.

More often than not, they can’t wait for me to make my 2 car distance before switching lanes, and thus, immediately cut over to pass me at less than 5mph. In some cases, some even speed faster just to make a statement.

Speed doesn’t kill. Idiotic drivers do, such as one commenter who deliberately drives at HIS speed while the rest of the world is forced to go around him, increasing the chance for an auto accident.

Don’t let idiots tell you that going slower saves gas. It’s crap. Especially when the internal combustion engine is the WORSE thing created by man when it comes to output vs. efficiency.

Oh, and one thing to note: ignoring the speed limit applies only to the highway. For you assholes out there doing 40+ in neighborhoods, may you strike a tree and kill yourselves before you do someone’s child.

Matthew Thomas Sain says:

crazy speeders.

I agree with that article.People really do igore the speed limit.Also i’ve known that for some reason everytime I go up to Oregon some people act like real jerks to people from California.I honestly don’t know why.Plus don’t ask me why but also some of the elderly people treat Californians with disrespect.I mean really what did Californians do to them.I know I’m going off the topic and some might think i’m some loser who spends his time saying hateful things about other states.Well i’m not I respect everyone even if are jerks.If you want to give some feedback of what i have written you can at the Email address above.

Matthew T. Sain

Dj says:


Could you be a bigger bunch of cry-in-the-corner pussies? It’s lack of confidence that causes accidents. People are too fucking stupid to realize that: If car a is going x-mph, and you have to get in front of them to allow someone to pass, and you’re travelling at x+1mph, who the fuck cares how far ahead of car a you are, you’re ahead of them, so shut the fuck up, and drive. If you have confidence, you can handle your car just fine at speeds well over 75mph. If somebody can handle their mid 1960’s jeep with no power steering at 75+, you can handle your 2012 grocery-getter with power steering and a more powerful motor at 80+. Moral: Grow some balls, and there will be no accidents, thus eliminating the need to non-enforced speed limits so people with more skills and drive at the speeds they are most comfortable with. For instance, I get uncomfortable when I’m in traffic going 55 in a 65 because nobody can drive. So, I’m going to dodge and dart through traffic until I’m ahead, and cruise at 85 because that’s where I’m comfortable with. Slower speeds typically will cause more accidents, because people feel “safer”, and therefore begin making poor judgement calls.

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