PhotoMention speeding and you may think of a BMW blasting down the freeway at 80, but the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) notes that the speeding-related fatality rate is three times higher on local streets than on highways and is urging changes in how cities and states set and enforce speed limits.

There are an estimated 10,000 speeding deaths per year in the U.S., a disproportionate number of them on local streets -- 3.8 deaths per million vehicle miles on local streets compared to 1.2 deaths per million miles on highways, the NTSB says.

Yet, local communities are often unable to take aggressive action to curb speeding beause of outmoded state and federal laws, the agency argues. It cites examples of cities that adopted lower speed limits and enforced them with cameras and saw a marked reduction in fatalities.

“People in cities are disproportionately impacted by outdated thinking around managing speed for safety,” said Leah Shahum, founder and director of the national nonprofit Vision Zero Network, a non-profit group working with NTSB to eliminate traffic fatalities.

10,000 deaths per year

“Safe streets, not speedways, must be the new norm if we are to prevent the 10,000 speed-related deaths and $52 billion in economic losses each year,” she said.

Examples cited in the report include:

New York City: Installed speed cameras in 2013, and lowered the speed limit in 2014 from 30 to 25 mph, reducing roadway fatalities by 23 percent in the last 3 years.

District of Columbia: Installed speed cameras in 2001 – one of the first programs in the nation – and cut speeding greater than 10 mph over the speed limit from 1 in 3 to 1 in 40. Traffic fatalities have dropped by 70 percent.

Montgomery County, Md.: After installing speed cameras in 2007, a 59 percent drop in the likelihood of a driver exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph and a 19 percent reduction in fatal or serious injury crashes, according to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study.

IIHS estimated that if all U.S. communities adopted a similar speed camera program, more than 22,000 fatal or incapacitating injuries would have been prevented on 25-35 mph roads nationwide in 2015.

The NTSB report recommendations include:

  • Modernize speed-setting standards that are outdated and unproven in order to account for all road users, not just those driving cars;
  • Encourage states and localities to authorize the use of automated speed enforcement, which is proven to be effective in managing speed and improving safety.
  • Incentivize state and local speed management activities and increase federal attention, leadership, and funding of speed as a national safety priority.

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